Many people ask me about what happened on August 16, 1986. My original written response appeared in the September 1994 issue of M-U-M Magazine. A version of that article was also used to close my books: Finger Fantasies: Limited Edition and Finger Fantasies: Expanded Edition. Below you will find that article which is full of Irony, Coincidence, Tragedy, and a happy ending!
When I first heard about it, I thought it was a cruel joke. I couldn’t believe it.
Since Harry first said these words to me, other magicians have confessed they too first thought it was a joke. The irony of the “Finger Guy” really losing his fingers! It’s really spooky!
Besides my popularizing finger magic and building my reputation on making my fingers disappear, there were some other events which preceded my accident that are even stranger. A week before my accident a music video by the Ramones called Something To Believe In started airing on MTV. In that video my right hand is shown vanishing two fingers. The same fingers which were to be severed in the accident.
Three days before my accident we had a small party at Tannen’s Magic Camp for the airing of my appearance on Comedy Tonight, where I performed my Finger Fantasies act.
The most astonishing coincidence between fiction and reality is a trick I published in 1985 in my book Finger Secrets. The trick is called Preordained Accident. The effect and patter went something like this: The magician walks on stage with his right arm bandaged. He explains that on the way over he was involved in a car accident. Other than some bruises the only serious injury was the amputation of one of his fingers but, the show must go on. A spectator is freely selected and names the finger which he thinks is missing. Upon removing the bandages, it is seen that the finger selected is the one that is missing.
What is even more interesting is that every time I performed this routine the spectator selected the ring finger which coincidentally is the only finger I permanently lost in the real accident.
Before I tell you what I learned from this experience I want to discuss the accident. Many versions of what happened have been circulated. I thought you might want to hear mine—after all, I was there.
The date was Saturday August 16th, 1986. Tannen’s Magic Camp just ended, and I was driving Hiawatha back to New York City from Oakdale Long Island. It was a beautiful day, and we were making good time, considering the traffic. All of a sudden, we heard an explosion. The right rear tire of my car blew out. I began pumping the break (a flash back from a class you must take in N.Y. before getting your license) which slowed the car down slightly. The steering wheel had a mind of its own; I didn’t have the strength to hold it steady. The car swerved to the left, hit some bushes, a sand pile and turned over end for end, followed by three more revolutions for a total of four flips. Finally landing right side up. During the flips I remember thinking: “OH SHIT!” among other more philosophical thoughts. I was conscious during the whole affair and was more concerned about Hiawatha than myself. Luckily his only injury was a bruised shoulder caused by the seat belt.
I knew my hand was injured and I heard people outside the car mentioning that fingers were lost. When I tried to look at my hand my eyes went blank all I could see was white. There was no real pain but, I felt wet from all the blood. Hiawatha was outside by now and I was trying to get out. The doctors at the scene would not let me. My hand was packed with ice and wrapped by a towel. A helicopter landed on the Expressway while doctors were putting all kinds of braces on my neck, legs etc … I was put on a stretcher and whisked away to St. John’s Hospital in Smithtown, Long Island.
How did I lose the fingers? I always drive with my right hand on the top of the steering wheel. During the first flip the guard rail separating the two roads went through the roof of the car like a can opener and caught my hand. The police report on the accident stated that the pinkie and ring finger along with a piece of my palm were found one-hundred yards from where the car finally ended up. Besides the right hand I had many other less serious injuries which eventually healed to perfection, give, or take a few scars.
Once I arrived in the hospital I told my surgeon, Dr. Ather Mirza, to try and reattach my fingers. I made the same two fingers on my left hand vanish and explained that it is my act. I think he was shocked when I brought them back. I couldn’t resist.
After nine reconstructive surgeries and one-and-a-half years of physical therapy I feel that I am a better magician now than I have ever been, both technically and as a performer.
So, now I can only do 900 sleights instead of 1,000, it is still 875 sleights more than I need!
What did I learn? I learned that I have many friends who care about me. I received literally hundreds of phone calls, cards and visitors from all over the world. That kind of attention is sure to cheer anyone up. Although I never really got depressed, I was so busy trying to entertain and cheer up all my friends who were feeling sorry for me that I never got a chance to feel sorry for myself. I came up with so many one-liners about fingers and hospitals I wish I could remember them all.
I found out firsthand the importance of wearing a seat belt. If Hiawatha and I were not buckled up, we would not be around today. So, buckle up next time you get into a car, you won’t be sorry.
I also learned that you can never stop living. You always need something to look forward to in order to be happy. It doesn’t matter if you are in a hospital bed or depressed about losing a loved one, you must always regain your life and go forward. Being magicians, it is a little easier for us. All we have to do is buy or read a new trick, get excited about it, practice it and perform it for a friend, a stranger or a real audience. That is the best mental therapy you can have. It is a good reason to live.
Addressing the irony of the accident. Rick Johnsson put it best. He told me that you can’t make sense of tragedies. No matter who you are and what you do these things just happen. You will never be able to explain why it happened.
Many people over the years have said to me (as a complement): Look what you have accomplished because of that accident!
I thank them but always think to myself:
It is not because of the accident… It is in spite of the accident!