A lot of memorable acts passed through studio 6-B when Johnny Carson was hosting the Tonight Show. Some were good, some were bad, and some were just plain ugly, but none can measure up to the psychic Yuri Geller and his disastrous appearance on the show in 1973. He’s all but forgotten now, but in the ’70s Geller was a household name, and the world’s most famous psychic.
Unlike other magicians and illusionists, the Israeli “psychic” insisted that all his powers were real, and even claimed they had been given to him by aliens. His signature trick was to bend spoons with nothing but the power of his mind, but he had a laundry list of other psychic “powers”, including mind reading.
Amazingly, audiences around the world bought Geller’s act hook, line and sinker – hey, it was the ’70s after all. His performances made him a millionaire, and companies even offered him contracts to use his powers for their benefit.
One of the powers that Yuri claimed to have was “dousing,” the ability to detect water and precious minerals underground. An Australian mining company was so convinced by his claims that they offered him stock in the business to detect minerals for them.
With success like that, it’s no surprise that he was invited to perform his act on the Tonight Show, but Johnny Carson didn’t make things easy for him.
Click the next page to see Geller’s TV appearance!
It’s a little-known fact, but before he got his start as a comedian and a TV host, Johnny Carson was a stage magician who performed as “the Great Carsoni.” Like other illusionists, Carson was skeptical about Geller’s claims that his powers were real, and supernatural. Most magicians agree that it’s fine to “lie” to an audience to entertain them, but misleading them for your own profit isn’t.
Carson decided to test Geller’s powers on live TV, with the help of another magician named James Randi – aka the Amazing Randi. Geller had no idea his powers would be tested on the show, he only expected to perform his spoon bending and water dousing tricks for the cameras.
The performance was a disaster. Randi had brought his own equipment – regular kitchen spoons, containers of water that Geller wasn’t allowed to touch – and didn’t allow Geller or his crew to interfere with them before he brought them out.
Again and again Geller’s tricks failed to work, which he blamed on his powers being “weak” that night. Few people have bombed on live TV as badly as Geller did that night.
Surprisingly, Geller’s career continued long after his public embarrassment. He continued to perform for audiences, and still claimed his powers were real.
He’s still touring today, and even uses some of the same tricks he failed to perform on his Carson appearance, but these days he doesn’t insist that he has any supernatural powers.
“I am an entertainer,” he told a German magazine in 2007, “I want to do a good show. My entire character has changed.”
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