Doug Henning: biography
Doug Henning brought magic back into the spotlight. His breathtaking illusions won him awards and honors, foreign to most in his profession.
Doug Henning was born in Winnipeg, Canada in 1947. By the tender age of 6, after watching a magician on television, he was determined to learn the art of magic. Young Henning began studying magician's manuals at his local library and purchased his first magic kit.
Henning performed his first show at the age of 14, when he was invited to a friend's birthday party. Amazed with his curious and spellbound audience, Henning placed an ad with a local paper that read, "Magician, Have Rabbit, Will Travel." Within months, teenage Henning was doing live shows on local television in Toronto and performing as an entertainer at parties.
After graduating high school, Doug Henning attended McMaster University, where he set his sights on becoming a doctor. Henning enrolled in psychology courses and studied the power of perception. Using his new skills, Henning began perfecting more detailed illusions.
Henning graduated McMaster University and decided to take a break from his studies. With the intention of enrolling in medical school after a two-year period, Henning turned his attention to magic. Eager to perfect his talent, Henning began working as a full-time magician after being awarded a small Canadian Council Grant. In order to fulfill the terms of the grant, Henning was to study magic. The $4,000 awarded him the opportunity to travel and view firsthand the talents of magic greats like Slydini and Dai Vernon.
In the early 1970s, Henning abandoned his goal to become a doctor. The enthusiastic entertainer took out a $5,000 loan and began building and designing stage illusions and props. It was Henning's goal to bring magic back to the "good 'ol days," when it was more of a theatrical art. With the help of a friend, Henning garnered more financial support and turned his dream into a live theatrical show. "Spellbound," a musical that combined an intense storyline and magic tricks hit the stage and broke every box office ticket record in Toronto.
His sudden success captured the attention of several New York producers, who made an offer that Henning couldn't resist. Traveling to New York, Henning revamped his show and took it to Broadway under a new title. "The Magic Show" debuted in 1974, and ran for 4-1/2 years straight. The highly successful show won Henning a Tony nomination.
The following year, Henning was approached by NBC, who wanted the popular illusionist to perform a live television performance void of trick mirrors or "old styled devices." Henning spent eight months working and reworking his act and in December of 1975, Doug Henning captured the attention of a nation. More than 50-million people watched as Doug Henning recreated Houdini's infamous "Water Torture Escape." "Doug Henning's World of Magic," won the Christopher Award for outstanding achievement and earned him a contract with NBC, who agreed to air yearly television shows based on the trickery of the new king of magic. For the following 7-years, Doug Henning amazed audiences worldwide and captured 7 Emmy nominations with once-a-year live television shows.
Henning relocated to Los Angeles in 1976, and created his own production company. For two months, he worked on building new illusions and inventing new stunts. Three years later, Henning's work paid off, as he wowed audiences around the globe with a new show, "World of Magic." The following year, Henning won the well-known Georgie Award from the American Guild of Variety Artists for Entertainer of the Year and Magician of the Year from Hollywood's Academy of Magical Arts and Sciences.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Doug Henning performed wherever he could. His magic was seen from Las Vegas to Japan. Henning also began to stage effects for music videos and concerts performed by Earth, Wind and Fire and Michael Jackson.
In December of 1981, Henning's career took a backseat as the magician exchanged vows in Fairfield, Iowa with Debby Douillard. A talented artist herself, Douillard would spend much of her married life accompanying her husband on tour, co-starring on stage, and helping to design sets and costumes.
In 1983, Doug Henning returned to Broadway, where he performed a $5-million dollar musical called "Merlin." The performance would earn Henning praise from critics and draw positive reviews from Time Magazine and The New York Times. "Merlin" ran for 8-months, receiving five Tony nominations.
The former worldwide tour "Doug Henning's World of Magic" was rewritten and taken to the stage, as well. Henning opened the reworked show on Broadway for a one month run. Due to its wide spreading popularity, the show's run was extended another 30-days.
In 1985, Henning set his own entertaining aside and was hired by the Walt Disney Company to do consultant work. His job: to find ways to put more magic into Disney theme parks, rides, exhibits and movies. By 1986, Disney opened Kingsman Island theme park in Washington, D.C. and the "Theater of Illusion."
In early 1990, Henning traveled to India to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation. Already an avid follower, Henning plunged himself into learning what he called "real magic."
Henning spent the 1990s appearing on game shows, performing occasional illusions and continuing his studies. He also began work on designing a transcendental meditation theme park in Ontario.
Doug Henning died February 7, 2000 in Los Angeles of liver cancer. Henning was 52 years old.