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Jono Blythe's Hocus Focus: Magician Doug Henning

Welcome back to Hocus Focus, the weekly series where we take a deep dive into the fascinating lives of famous magicians. This week, we'll be exploring the life and times of the great Doug Henning.

Black and white signed photo of levitating magician, Doug Henning
By NBC Television - eBay itemphoto frontpress release, Public Domain,

Born on May 3, 1947, in Winnipeg, Doug Henning became interested in magic at a young age. He was inspired by the Peruvian magician Richiardi Jr's performance on the famous Ed Sullivan Show. Henning started performing magic locally as 'The Great Hendoo' and quickly gained a reputation for his captivating performances.

Despite his love for magic, Henning temporarily gave up performing to study psychology at McMaster University in Ontario. It was during his time there that he met director Ivan Reitman, who would later become famous for directing Ghostbusters, and starred in the musical Li'l Abner.

After completing his studies, Henning worked as a load lifter at Toronto International Airport. It was here that he met his first female assistant, Mars Barrick, and together they formed the successful magic duo 'Henning & Mars.' They started performing at local clubs and eventually traveled the whole of Canada, wowing audiences with their magical feats.

Henning's passion for magic led him to study dance, mime, and magic, for which he was awarded a grant. He visited the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood, California, where he met Dai Vernon, known as 'The Professor,' and later studied under Vernon's instruction. He also learned from the great Slidini, further honing his skills as a magician.

Henning's first live show was called 'Spellbound,' which was directed by Reitman and written by the famous horror director David Cronenberg. It opened at The Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, and its success led to a four-year run on Broadway under the new name 'The Magic Show.' Henning was nominated for a Tony Award for the show, cementing his status as one of the greatest magicians of his time.

Following his Broadway success, Henning was given his first NBC special called 'Doug Henning's World of Magic.' This was the first of seven specials for Henning, which concluded in 1983 with 'World of Magic 7,' where he turned a white horse and a black horse into a zebra in the show's finale. At the end of each special, Henning would address his audience with his famous monologue, inspiring countless people with his message of hope and possibility.

Henning's success on television led to guest appearances on many other shows, such as The Tonight Show, The Osmond Family Christmas Special, and The Muppet Show. However, in the mid-eighties, Henning retired from magic and turned to transcendental meditation. He even planned to build a 1.5 billion dollar attraction called Maharishi Veda Land along with the founder of transcendental meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Henning was also involved in politics and was a Natural Law Party candidate in the general election in the UK, finishing fourth with 173 votes. He was also the vice-president of the Natural Law Party of Canada and finished sixth in his candidacy.

Henning was married twice in his life. First to Barbara De Angelis, but they divorced in 1981. He then married Debby Douillard the same year he was divorced.

Sadly, Henning's life was cut short when he died of liver cancer at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in LA. He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered in the Pacific. However, his legacy as one of the greatest magicians of all time lives on. Henning received a star on the Canada Walk of Fame on June 8th, 2010, in recognition of his contribution to the art of magic.

Doug Henning was a magician, illusionist, and performer who left an indelible mark on the world of magic. His unique blend of mysticism and optimism captured the hearts and minds of audiences worldwide, inspiring them to believe that anything is possible if they only look within. Henning's magic shows and TV specials set new standards in the industry, paving the way for a generation of magicians to come. Although he retired from magic, his legacy lives on, and his influence continues to inspire countless performers and fans alike.

Doug Henning truly was a magical force to be reckoned with, and he will always be remembered as one of the greats in the world of magic.

"Anything the mind can conceive is possible. Nothing is impossible. All you have to do is look within, and you can realise your fondest dreams. I would like to wish each one of you all of life's wonders and a joyful age of enlightenment."

(Doug Henning)

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