Take Two #18: On the Passing of Two Masters
On Friday, February 24, I lost not one, but two friends, colleagues, and artistic influences. One who was a bit older than I; one, a tad younger. One who, sadly, I knew was on his way. Another, tragically, whose death shocks me, along with thousands of friends and colleagues around the world.
On Friday I was already late with writing my weekly Take Two feature, due to having been hit with a serious head cold. Then I got the news that Bob Cassidy had died. On December 23rd I had devoted Take Two as a tribute to this influential mentalist, with the knowledge that he was seriously ill. But when, on January 27, a mere four weeks ago, I had featured the magician Daryl in Take Two #14, the thought never crossed my mind that I could be writing an obituary. But Friday evening I got a phone call from a close friend and magician colleague, bringing the awful, unimaginable news: Daryl Easton was dead. Shockingly, horrifyingly, he had apparently committed suicide in a dressing room at the Magic Castle, where he had been performing all week, doing double duty as both the early and late performer in the Parlour of Prestidigitation, six shows a night. He was discovered in the dressing room shortly before the time of his first expected show Friday night, having performed all the shows Monday through Thursday.
Awful rumors were published on the web by trash sites like TMZ and Heavy.com. A newspaper reporter called a friend at one in the morning trying to get more information, since he had expressed his sense of loss in a Facebook post. In the absence of real information, these outlets published grotesque fictions, and other news sites and journals repeated the claims.
Despite being sick and having been in bed when I got the call, I spent many more hours awake, talking and texting and crying with friends.
It’s important that those distorted fictions be erased, and so I include here the statement from the Academy of Magic Arts at the Magic Castle, released this (Saturday) morning as I write.
The Academy of Magic Arts Mourns the Passing of Daryl
HOLLYWOOD—Feb. 25, 2107—For Immediate Release—The Academy of Magic Arts (AMA) and the Magic Castle mourn the passing of celebrated magician and AMA family member, Daryl.
Daryl, who was performing at the Magic Castle this week, was found dead on the club’s premises on the evening of Friday, Feb. 24, and his death has been ruled a suicide by the Los Angeles Police Department.
The magic community mourns the loss of one of our most beloved and talented performers and the AMA’s deepest regrets and heart-felt sympathy go out to Daryl’s family.
Daryl was a World Champion, first-place FISM Gold medal winning, close-up magician with over 40 years of experience in both performing and selling the finest magic in the world. Daryl performed as a headline act at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for seven years fine tuning his already encyclopedic knowledge of magic. Daryl has performed literally thousands of shows for audiences as diverse as the Witch Doctors on the South Pacific island of Vanuatu to the movers and shakers of the political world at the Presidential Ball in Washington, D.C.
Even though the press release mentions some of Daryl’s credits, even as I mentioned a few of his awards in Take Two, they don’t come near approaching the entire list. When I wrote about Paul Gertner a week ago, I provided his impressive list of competition prizes and prestigious awards. Few magicians could match, much less exceed such a stellar inventory. But here is Daryl’s remarkable record, drawn from Wikipedia:
Daryl won the gold medal at FISM - the World Congress of Magic (the "Olympics" of Magic), in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1982, with a routine that included his now famous Ambitious Card Routine using the Ultimate Ambition. He has been awarded 6 Academy Awards from the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood, California. Twice, his peers voted him Close-Up Magician of the Year (1980 and 1981), twice as Parlour Magician of the Year (1986 and 1987), and twice as Lecturer of the Year (1988 and 1992). The list goes on and on with victories in every major competition he has entered. More recently he was voted one of the 100 most influential magicians of the 20th century by MAGIC magazine.
To call that record remarkable is a gross understatement. It is the reason Daryl proclaimed himself “The Magicians’ Magician,” and why magicians the world over endorsed and embraced the moniker.
As grotesque as the news outlet misinformation was, more monstrous still are comments I’ve seen on social media that attacked our dead colleague for daring to sully the good name of the Magic Castle. The brittle lack of empathy and hateful narcissism of such words are shocking to me, no matter if the death was intentional or by some chance turns out to be accidental. Assuming the former, apparently now confirmed by the coroner, I can only try to imagine the emotional agony that this wondrous man and glorious artist must have been in to have been blinded to seeing any passage toward escape from his demons, blinded to the damage inflicted on his survivors. Depression is a cruel and sometimes uncompromising illness, and it can be literally deadly. I lost a dear friend, another great magical artist, to depression and suicide just five years ago, a living legend by the name of Tim Conover (whom I will someday write about here). I remember the heartbreaking horror of that night as if it was yesterday, and I was cruelly reminded it of last night. Tim had been sick and suffering for years, his close friends and family knew and tried to help. Although I was closer to Tim, Daryl’s struggles appear to have been thoroughly masked by his seemingly indefatigably happy-go-lucky persona. Someone said that sometimes those with the largest smiles hide the greatest pain.
I also saw comments that were quick to offer glib and baseless theories without even any personal knowledge of Daryl. Loathe as I am to entertain most such musings without substantive information, I will make a considered exception and share a thought that came from Erika Larsen, second-generation Magic Castle family and past President of the Board of Directors of the Academy of Magical Arts, whose mother, Irene, herself a beloved legend in the world of magic, died one year ago Friday (Feb 24). Erika writes:
The overwhelming feeling for me has been that Daryl wanted to be among his friends, those who loved and respected him, in his final moments. In a place that held so many happy memories. He knew he would be cherished in death perhaps in a way he never felt cherished in life. And this is indeed the case. He has been encompassed by a tidal wave of love. I'm sure he saw it coming. I just wish he could have known how strongly it was there all along.
As I commiserated late Friday night with a mutual friend of Daryl’s and fellow performer, we shared our mystification at how such a thing could happen in the midst of a week of shows and accolades. But Erika’s generous and empathetic theory makes a kind of sense out of it for me, at least in the absence of further insight. It had to be that the act was far from spontaneous. It had to be that it had been planned, except perhaps for the choice of what night. We will likely never know such details. But no matter the brutal fallout, the waves of impact that will fall on his family and friends forever, this notion makes my heart ache for his struggles even more now, as I choke back further tears trying to write this. My heart aches for him, and for his wife, Alison, and their two daughters.
It has been a truly dark and terrible day for them. And, too, for me, and for the world of magic, as we bid farewell to not one but two grand masters. As Erika observed, the world of magic has filled with outpourings of grief and love for both of these men. Countless admirers bear witness to their generosity, their influence, their inspiration, their instruction. Daryl was truly a noted teacher, one of the finest instructional communicators I’ve ever seen when it comes to teaching sleight-of-hand. He educated and inspired countless thousands, who continue to use his ideas and perform his material, literally around the world. His instructional videos will continue to educate and influence generations of artists to come.
And so, for this week’s Take Two, and with apologies for lateness, I offer this sad commentary and condolence. Here are links to the two features I devoted, in just the past two months, to Bob Cassidy and Daryl Easton, as tribute to two friends and masters. Long may their work deceive and uplift. Long may their lives be remembered and celebrated.
Take Two #9: Bob Cassidy
Take Two #14: Daryl
MORE: TAKE TWO ARCHIVE