Criss Angel was born on December 19, 1967, at Hempstead General Hospital in Hempstead, on Long Island, New York. He is of Greek descent. Angel was raised in Elmont until fourth grade, when his family moved to East Meadow, New York. His father, John Sarantakos, owned a restaurant and doughnut shop. He developed an interest in magic at age seven and performed his first show at the age of twelve, for which he was paid $10. His main early influence was Harry Houdini. By fourteen, Angel was performing throughout high school at restaurants in East Meadow, including the Wine Gallery. Angel's first major illusion was making his mother float in their family den. Early in his career he was helped by animal breeder and reality-television host Marc Morrone, who helped Angel find and train a set of doves for his act.
By the time he graduated from East Meadow High School, he had decided to pursue a career as a professional magician instead of attending college as his parents wanted. According to Biography Channel, "Angel hit the road and began touring with other traveling performance acts. Between traveling and performing, he attempted to further his education in his own by studying the history of magic in public libraries. He also studied the art of mysticism, music, martial arts and even dance."
Angel has said that, "I stayed away from magicians when I was younger because I didn't want to think like them and wanted to create my own style." His first television appearance was in 1994, where he performed as a part of a one-hour ABC primetime special entitled Secrets. One of the early supporters of Angel was horror director Clive Barker. In 1995, Barker asked Angel to work with him on his film Lord of Illusions. He also later recorded the intro to Angel's album World of Illusion: System One. Barker said of Angel in the mid-1990s that, "Criss Angel is extraordinary, a spectacular mix of visionary magic. This is the future, and it can’t come quickly enough." During that year, he collaborated with musician Klayton to form Angeldust, a show that combined magic with music. They released their first album Musical Conjurings from the World of Conjuring in 1998. Also that year, Angel performed a ten-minute show over the course of the "World of Illusion" conference in Madison Square Garden, performing sixty shows per day. However, by 2000, Klayton's name was removed from Angel's website.
Angel also starred in the 1997 television movie The Science of Magic and its 2003 sequel The Science of Magic II. Criss Angel Mindfreak, which would later become Angel's first television series, was originally an off-Broadway show by Angel, which in 2001 was picked up by the World Underground Theatre. When not performing the show, Angel worked the streets promoting the show to pedestrians. Criss Angel Mindfreak ran for more than 600 performances between 2001 and 2003 at the World Underground Theater in Times Square. His twenty-four hours in a tank of water set a world record for the longest amount of time for a human to be completely submerged under water. This performance would also become a part of his first television special.
Angel has also been known to actively discourage a belief in mediumship, stating that there is no way for mediums to speak with people beyond the dead. He has said, "If somebody's doing that for entertainment purposes, that's one thing. But if they claim to be communicating with the dead, I don't care if they're from my hometown, I don't care if they're my family members: I'll expose them and tell them what they really are."
Criss Angel Mindfreak television series
In 2005, Criss Angel became the creator, director, and executive producer of the A&E Network show Criss Angel Mindfreak, and had entered production in January. Seasons 1 and 2 were filmed at The Aladdin in Las Vegas, with Season 3 at the Luxor Las Vegas. Premiering on July 20, 2005, the show's illusions included walking on water, levitating, walking up the side of Luxor Hotel (in the light of 39 focused lamps that can be seen from space), floating between two buildings, causing a Lamborghini to disappear, surviving in an exploding C4 Crate, cutting himself in half in full view of an audience and getting run over by a steamroller while lying on a bed of broken glass.
The first season of the show was released on DVD after it completed its on-screen run. The show also released its Halloween special, along with two special episodes, on an additional one-disc DVD offering. The show returned for a second season in May 2006, and was named one of the best shows of the summer by the Tulsa World newspaper. The show was renewed for a third season in July 2006; as of that third season the show was A&E's number one rated show, with more than 1.5 million viewers. That year he promoted the show with a performance where he was suspended within a cube encased in concrete above Times Square, escaping from the block before it was set to crash to the ground. Magic effects creator Sean Field stated of Angel this year that, "Criss Angel is the biggest name in magic since Houdini ... No other magician has invaded pop culture to the degree that Criss Angel has. He has changed the image of magic and made it cool." The show became one of the most popular foreign television shows in parts of Asia, including China.
The television show was noted as a part of the mid-2000s films, television, and books that drove a resurgence of the public popularity of magic. Criss Angel Mindfreak was the first weekly magic television show to air in forty years. Daily Variety reviewed the premiere writing, "The stunts alone are impressive. But what makes the show fascinating are the down-home touches in which we see the kid from New York, who first honed his magic skills at the age of 6. Keenly aware of the camera at all times, Angel manages to offer some personality, especially where family is involved. Viewers follow the illusionist as he contemplates new and more dangerous stunts, while his crew, including his often-fretful brothers, offer insight as to what, other than ego, drives someone in this profession."
The show ran from 2005 until 2010, at which point he had been featured for more hours on primetime television than any other magician in history. Other tricks performed in the show included making an elephant disappear and the performance of séances as well as other tricks in order to teach his audience about con men and how to avoid scams intended to manipulate money out of people.
In July 2008, Angel escaped from a beachside hotel before its demolition in front of a crowd of about 50,000 people, an illusion that also aired on the television program. After the illusion, Angel showed the audience step by step how he achieved the escape. He first picked open a set of handcuffs that had him shackled to a balcony railing. He then smashed the window of the room in order to enter the hotel, and picked padlocks on both the room's internal door and the door to the stairwell. The escape was initially supposed to occur via a ladder that dangled above the hotel's roof 30 seconds before collapse, after picking through five locks on the roof's door. Instead, Angel emerged from the rubble after the collapse, claiming that the initial plan was always to escape via the helicopter. The total time allotted for the entire illusion was 4 minutes, with dynamite located on the first, second, and fourth floors of the building.