Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz in Budapest, later Ehrich Weiss or Harry Weiss; March 24, 1874 – October 31, 1926) was a Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer, noted for his sensational escape acts. He first attracted notice as “Harry Handcuff Houdini” on a tour of Europe, where he challenged different police forces to try to keep him locked up. This revealed a talent for gimmickry and for audience involvement that characterized all his work. Soon he extended his repertoire to include chains, ropes slung from skyscrapers, straitjackets under water, and having to hold his breath inside a sealed milk can.
In 1904, thousands watched as he tried to escape from special handcuffs commissioned by London’s Daily Mirror, keeping them in suspense for an hour. Another stunt saw him buried alive and only just able to claw himself to the surface, emerging in a state of near-breakdown. While many suspected that these escapes were fabricated, Houdini meanwhile presented himself as the scourge of fake magicians and spiritualists. As President of the Society of American Magicians, he was keen to uphold professional standards and expose fraudulent artists who gave practitioners a bad name. He was also quick to sue anyone who pirated his own escape stunts. In addition to his performing career, Houdini also pursued an interest in exposing Mediumship and similar claims of the paranormal as frauds.
Houdini made a number of movies, but quit acting when it failed to bring in money. He was also a keen aviator, and aimed to become the first man to fly a plane in Australia. Even the circumstances of his death in 1926 were dramatic and mysterious. According to one version, a student in Montréal asked him if his stomach was hard enough to take any blow, to which he replied that it was, whereupon the student rained a series of blows on it before Houdini had time to tense up. A few days later, he died of peritonitis caused by a ruptured appendix. This may have been unconnected, as he had already been suffering appendicitis and refusing to seek medical attention