David Seth Kotkin (born September 16, 1956), known professionally as David Copperfield, is an American illusionist, described by Forbes as the most commercially successful magician in history.
Copperfield's television specials have won 21 Emmy Awards of a total 38 nominations. Best known for his combination of storytelling and illusion, Copperfield's career of over 40 years has earned him 11 Guinness World Records, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a knighthood by the French government, and he has been named a Living Legend by the US Library of Congress.
Copperfield has so far sold 33 million tickets and grossed over $4 billion, which is more than any other solo entertainer in history. In 2015, Forbes listed his earnings at $63 million for the previous 12 months and ranked him the 20th highest earning celebrity in the world.
When not performing, he manages his chain of eleven resort islands in the Bahamas, which he calls "Musha Cay and the Islands of Copperfield Bay".
opperfield was born David Seth Kotkin in Metuchen, New Jersey, the son of Jewish parents, Rebecca, an insurance adjuster, and Hyman Kotkin, who owned and operated a men's haberdashery in Metuchen called Korby's. Copperfield's mother was born in Jerusalem while his paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from USSR (present-day Ukraine).In 1974, Copperfield graduated from Metuchen High School.
When Copperfield was 10, he began practicing magic as "Davino the Boy Magician" in his neighborhood, and at the age of 12, became the youngest person admitted to the Society of American Magicians. Shy and a loner, the young Copperfield saw magic as a way of fitting in and, later, as a way to meet women. As a child, Copperfield attended a day camp called Camp Harmony, in nearby Warren, New Jersey, where he began practicing magic and ventriloquy, an experience to which he credits his creative style. "At Camp Harmony, we spent two weeks searching for a guide who'd been kidnapped by Indians. It was just a game, but I was living it. My whole life goes back to that camp experience when I was three or four." As a teenager, Copperfield became fascinated with Broadway and frequently sneaked into shows, especially musicals featuring the work of Stephen Sondheim or Bob Fosse. By age 16, he was teaching a course in magic at New York University.
Career and business interests
At age 18, Copperfield enrolled at New York City's Jesuit-based school Fordham University. However, three weeks into his freshman year he left Fordham to play the lead role of the musical The Magic Man in Chicago. It was on this occasion that he adopted the stage name "David Copperfield", taken from the famous Charles Dickens novel because he liked the sound of it. Copperfield sang, danced and created most of the original illusions used in the show. The Magic Man became the longest running musical in Chicago's history.
At age 19, he was headlining at the Pagoda Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii for several months.
Copperfield performing for the 1977 ABC special
Copperfield's career in television began in earnest when he was discovered by Joseph Cates, a producer of Broadway shows and television specials. Cates produced a magic special in 1977 for ABC called "The Magic of ABC" hosted by Copperfield, as well as several of "The Magic of David Copperfield" specials on CBS between 1978 and 2001. There have been 17 Copperfield TV specials and 2 documentaries between September 7, 1977, and April 3, 2001.
Copperfield also played the character of "The Magician" in the 1980s horror film Terror Train and an uncredited appearance in the 1994's film Prêt-à-Porter. Most of his media appearances have been through television specials and guest spots on television programs. His illusions have included the disappearance of a Learjet (1981), the vanishing and reappearance of the Statue of Liberty (1983), levitating over the Grand Canyon (1984), walking through the Great Wall of China (1986), escaping from Alcatraz prison (1987), the disappearance of an Orient Express dining car (1991) and flying on stage for several minutes (1992).
One of his most famous illusions occurred on television on April 8, 1983: a live audience of 20 tourists was seated in front of a giant curtain attached to two lateral scaffoldings built on Liberty Island in an enclosed viewing area. Copperfield, with help by Jim Steinmeyerand Don Wayne, raised the curtain before lowering it again a few seconds later to reveal that the space where the Statue of Liberty once stood was empty. A helicopter hovered overhead to give an aerial view of the illusion and the statue appeared to have vanished and only the circle of lights surrounding it was still present and visible. Before making the statue reappear, Copperfield explained in front of the camera why he wanted to perform this illusion. He wanted people to imagine what it would be like if there were no liberty or freedom in the world today and what the world would be like without the freedoms and rights we enjoy. Copperfield then brought Lady Liberty back, ending the illusion by saying that "our ancestors couldn't (enjoy rights and freedoms), we can and our children will". Both the disappearance and the reappearance of the statue were filmed in long take to demonstrate the absence of camera tricks.
In 1996, in collaboration with Francis Ford Coppola, David Ives, and Eiko Ishioka, Copperfield's Broadway show Dreams & Nightmares broke box office records in New York at the Martin Beck Theatre.Reviewer Greg Evans described the sold-out show in Variety magazine: "With a likable, self-effacing demeanor that rarely comes across in his TV specials, Copperfield leads the audience through nearly two hours of truly mind-boggling illusions. He disappears and reappears, gets cut in half, makes audience members vanish and others levitate. Copperfield climaxes his show with a flying routine, seven years in the making, that defies both logic and visual evidence, he could probably retire just by selling his secrets to future productions of Peter Pan".
Also during 1996, Copperfield joined forces with Dean Koontz, Joyce Carol Oates, Ray Bradbury and others for David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible, an anthology of original fiction set in the world of magic and illusion. A second volume was later published in 1997, called David Copperfield's Beyond Imagination. In addition to the two books, Copperfield also wrote an essay as part of the "This I Believe" series from NPR and the This I Believe, Inc.
In May 2001, Copperfield entertained guests at a White House benefit for UNICEF by performing an illusion in which he sawed singer and actress Jennifer Lopez into six pieces. This illusion was an update of one he performed in one of his early TV specials on actress Catherine Bach.
In 2002, he was the subject of an hour-long biographical special, aired on A&E's "Biography" channel.
On April 5, 2009, Copperfield made his first live TV appearance for some time when he entertained the audience at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards with two illusions. First, he made singer Taylor Swift appear inside an apparently empty translucent-sided elevator as it was lowered from the ceiling, and then sawed her in half in his Clearly Impossible illusion.
On May 7, 2009, Copperfield was dropped by Michael Jackson from Jackson's residency at the O2 Arena after an alleged disagreement over money. Copperfield wanted $1 million (£666,000) per show.
Copperfield denied the reports of a falling out, saying "don't believe everything you read."News of Copperfield's collaboration with Jackson first surfaced on April 1, 2009, and has since been reported by several websites as a possible April Fool's prank.
In August 2009, Copperfield took his show to Australia.
In January 2011 Copperfield joined the cast of the feature film Burt Wonderstone with Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, James Gandolfini, and Olivia Wilde. Copperfield and his team developed illusions used in the film, while Copperfield also coached Carell and Wilde on how to perform the 'Impossible Sawing' illusion, in which Wilde's character is sawed in half and her halves separated without the use of any covering or camera tricks.
In July 2012, OWN-TV network aired a one-hour special and interview with Copperfield as part of the network's "Oprah's Next Chapter" series. The show featured many aspects of Copperfield's personal life and family—with tours of his island home and Las Vegas conjuring museum—and a sampling of his illusions and magic effects. During the interview, he and his girlfriend Chloe Gosselin, a French fashion model, announced their engagement and appeared together briefly with their young daughter strolling down the beach on the island.
Copperfield notes that his role models growing up were not magicians, that "My idols were Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and Orson Welles and Walt Disney... they took their individual art forms and they moved people with them... I wanted to do the same thing with magic. I wanted to take magic and make it romantic and make it sexy and make it funny and make it goofy... all the different things that a songwriter gets to express or a filmmaker gets to express... " This approach, despite its obvious popularity with audiences, has its share of detractors within the profession. One magician, for example, has described Copperfield's stage presentations as "resembling entertainment the way Velveeta resembles cheese".
International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts
Copperfield owns the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts, which houses the world's largest collection of historically significant magic memorabilia, books, and artifacts. Begun in 1991 when Copperfield purchased the Mulholland Library of Conjuring and the Allied Arts, which contained the world's largest collection of Houdini memorabilia, the museum comprises approximately 80,000 items of magic memorabilia, including Houdini's Water Torture Cabinet and his Metamorphosis Trunk, the Orson Welles' Buzz Saw illusion and automata created by Robert-Houdin. Copperfield's 1991 Mulholland purchase, which formed the core of his collection, engendered criticism from some detrctors within the magician community. One critic told a reporter that "David Copperfield buying the Mulholland Library is like an Elvis impersonator winding up with Graceland."
The museum is not open to the public; tours are reserved for "colleagues, fellow magicians, and serious collectors".Located in a warehouse at Copperfield's headquarters in Las Vegas, the museum is entered via a secret door in what was described by actor Hugh Jackman as a "sex shop"and by Forbes as a "mail-order lingerie warehouse" "'It doesn't need to be secret, it needs to be respected,' he said. 'If a scholar or journalist needs a piece of magic history, it's there.'".
Musha Cay and the Islands of Copperfield Bay
In 2006, Copperfield bought eleven Bahamian islands called Musha Cay. Renamed "The Islands of Copperfield Bay", the islands are a private resort. Guests have reportedly included Oprah Winfrey and John Travolta. Google co-founder Sergey Brin was married there. Copperfield has stated that the islands may contain the Fountain of Youth, a claim which resulted in him receiving a Dubious Achievement Award from Esquire Magazine in 2006.
"Magic Underground" restaurant
Photo of illusionist David Copperfield, taken in March 2014, on Musha Cay and the Islands of Copperfield Bay
David Copperfield's Magic Underground was planned to be a restaurant based on Copperfield's magic. At Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, there was a sign on Hollywood Boulevard during the late 1990s indicating the restaurant was coming soon. Signs were also located around Pleasure Island and signs outside Disney-MGM Studios.[ A Magic Underground restaurant was also going to open in New York's Times Square. Plans also included eventual expansion into Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as well as Paris and Tokyo. The restaurants were to have magic props and other items on the walls of the restaurants while magicians would go around to tables doing sleight of hand tricks. There was also to be a larger stage for larger stunts. The restaurant in Times Square was 85 percent completed, but amid disputes between the creative team and the financial team and enormous cost overruns, finances dried up from the investors, the project was cancelled, and Disney cancelled the lease.Copperfield was not an investor in the project; the investors reportedly lost $34 million on the project, and subcontractors placed $15 million in liens.
Recorded message for expanded gambling in Maryland
In October 2012, Maryland residents received a robocall from Copperfield, supporting a Maryland ballot initiative that would expand gambling in the state.
Accidents and injuries
On March 11, 1984, while rehearsing an illusion called "Escape From Death" where he was shackled and handcuffed in a tank of water, Copperfield became tangled in the chains and started taking in water and banging into the sides of the tank. He was pulled from the water after 1 minute 20 seconds, hyperventilating and in shock, and taken to a Burbank hospital, and found to have pulled tendons in arms and legs. He was in a wheelchair for a week and used a cane for a period thereafter.
While doing a rope trick at a show in Memphis in 1989, Copperfield accidentally cut off the tip of his finger with sharp scissors. He was rushed to the hospital and the fingertip was re-attached.
On December 17, 2008, during a live performance in Las Vegas, a 26-year-old assistant named Brandon was sucked into the spinning blades of a 12 feet (3.7 m) high industrial fan that Copperfield walks through.The assistant sustained multiple fractures to his arm, severe bleeding, and facial lacerations that required stitches.Copperfield canceled the rest of the performance and offered the audience members refunds.
In 1993 at a Berlin celebrity gala Copperfield met German supermodel Claudia Schiffer when he brought her on stage to participate in a mind reading act and in his flying illusion, and in January 1994 they became engaged. During this engagement, Schiffer sometimes appeared on stage with Copperfield to act as his special guest assistant in illusions including being sawn in half. She also appeared alongside Copperfield in David Copperfield: 15 Years of Magic (1994), a documentary in which she played the role of a reporter interviewing him, and at the end of which they reprised their performance of the "Flying" illusion. After a nearly six-year engagement, in September 1999 they announced their separation citing work schedules.
In April 2006, he and two female assistants were robbed at gunpoint after a performance in West Palm Beach, Florida.His assistants handed over their money, passports, and a cell phone. According to his police statement, Copperfield did not hand over anything, claiming that he used sleight of hand to hide his possessions,although later admitting that doing so was "very stupid. It was a reflex that could have got me shot".One of the assistants wrote down most of the license plate number, and the suspects were later arrested, charged, and sentenced.
Copperfield and his girlfriend Chloe Gosselin, a French fashion model who is 28 years his junior, had a daughter named Sky in February 2010. The news did not break publicly until over a year later, when The New York Post reported it in August 2011, and it was confirmed by Copperfield's publicist.
In July 2016, he purchased a mansion in Las Vegas's affluent Summerlin community for $17.55 million.
Achievements and awards
The Society of American Magicians, "Magician of the Century" and "King of Magic".
Nominated 38 times for Emmy Awards and has won 21 times.
Received a Living Legend Award from the Library of Congress.
First living magician to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Recognized by the French government, receiving the Chevalier of Arts and Letters, the first one ever awarded to a magician.
Named "Magician of the Year" in 1979 and 1986 by the Academy of Magical Arts.
Forbes's "The Celebrity 100" for 2009 ranks Copperfield as the 80th most powerful celebrity, with earnings of $30 million.
Inducted into New York City's Ride of Fame on September 11, 2015