Henning was not a death-defyier by nature, and he would later admit that performing the USD was a harrowing experience, and one that he would never repeat. But he also noted, "I reached 50 million people through my first TV special. That's more people than saw Houdini in his whole lifetime."
I was one of those 50 million, and I'll never forget the experience of seeing this show. Along with seeing the movie HOUDINI with Tony Curtis (which I think all happened in the same month), it sparked my interest in magic and obsession with Houdini. In fact, the TV Guide advert for the show (below) was the very first image I ever saw of the real Harry Houdini. This image bewitched me.
|Original TV Guide ad. (Click to enlarge)
Henning's special was a huge hit, and not only did it make Doug Henning the preeminent magician of the day, but it reinvigorated magic and opened the door for other magicians to mount their own Prime Time TV specials, which continue to this day. Henning would go on to perform several more live TV specials and tour until 1987 when he retired to study Transcendental Meditation (he reportedly sold many of his effects to David Copperfield). He died of liver cancer in 2000 at the age of 52 -- the same age as Houdini when he died.
Doug Henning is one of the all-time great names in magic. And on this day 35 years ago, he proved himself to be a showman worthy of Houdini.