Uri Geller - biography
Uri Geller (Hebrew: אורי גלר; born 20 December 1946) is an Israeli born, self-proclaimed mystifier living in England known for his trademark television performances of spoon bending and other supposed psychic effects. Throughout the years, Geller has been accused of using simple conjuring tricks to achieve the effects of psychokinesis and telepathy. Geller's career as an entertainer has spanned almost four decades, with television shows and appearances in many countries. Geller used to call his abilities "psychic," but now prefers to refer to himself as a "mystifier" and entertainer.
Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, to Hungarian Jewish parents, Geller is the son of Itzhaak Geller (Gellér Izsák), a retired army sergeant major, and Manzy Freud (Freud Manci). It is claimed that Geller is a distant relative of Sigmund Freud on his mother's side. At the age of 11, Geller's family moved to Nicosia, Cyprus, where he attended a high school, The Terra Santa College and learned English. At the age of 18 he served as a paratrooper in the Israeli Army, and was wounded in action during the 1967 Six-Day War. He worked as a photographic model in 1968 and 1969; during that time, he began to perform for small audiences as a nightclub entertainer, becoming well-known in Israel.
Geller first started to perform in theatres, public halls, auditoriums, military bases and universities in Israel. By the 1970s, Geller had become known in the United States and Europe. He also received attention from the scientific community, whose members were interested in examining his reported psychic abilities. At the peak of his career in the 1970s, he worked full-time, performing for television audiences worldwide.
Geller gained notice for demonstrating on television what he claimed to be psychokinesis, dowsing, and telepathy. His performance included bending spoons, describing hidden drawings, and making watches stop or run faster. Geller said he performs these feats through will power and the strength of his mind. Magicians have said that his performances can be duplicated using stage magic tricks.
In 1975 Geller published his first autobiography, My Story, and acknowledged that, in his early career, his manager talked him into adding a magic trick to make his performances last longer. This trick involved Geller appearing to guess audience members' license plate numbers, when in fact his manager had given them to him ahead of time. One of Geller's most prominent critics is the prominent skeptic James Randi, who has accused Geller repeatedly of trying to pass off magic tricks as paranormal displays. Randi often duplicated Geller's performances using stage magic techniques.
Geller starred in the 2001 horror film Sanitarium, directed by Johannes Roberts and James Eaves. In May 2002, he appeared as a contestant on the first series of the British reality TV show I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, where he finished in eighth place. In 2005, Geller starred in Uri's Haunted Cities: Venice, a XI Pictures/Lion TV production for Sky One, which led to a behind the scenes release in early 2008 called Cursed; both productions were directed by Jason Figgis. In early 2007, Geller hosted a reality show in Israel called The Successor (היורש), where the contestants performed magic tricks and Geller was accused of "trickery." In July 2007 NBC signed Geller and Criss Angel for Phenomenon, to search for the next great mentalist; contestant Mike Super won the position. In January 2008, Geller began hosting the TV show The Next Uri Geller, broadcast by Pro7 in Germany.
In February 2008, Geller began a show on Dutch television called De Nieuwe Uri Geller, which shares a similar format to its German counterpart. The goal of the programme is to find the best mentalist in the Netherlands. In March 2008, he started the same show in Hungary (A kiválasztott in Hungarian). During the show, Geller speaks in both Hungarian and English. Geller also performs his standard routines of allegedly making stopped watches start, spoons jump from televisions, and tables move. Geller co-produced the TV show Book of Knowledge, released in April 2008. In October 2009, a similar show, called The Successor of Uri Geller. began on Greek television.
Geller lives in Sonning-on-Thames, Berkshire in the United Kingdom. He claims to have been a vegetarian since 1976, however he still eats fish making him a pescetarian. He is also a trilingual who speaks: English, Hebrew, and Hungarian. In an appearance on Esther Rantzen's 1996 television talk show Esther, Geller claimed to have suffered from anorexia nervosa for several years.
In addition, he has written 16 fiction and non fiction books.
Geller owns a 1976 Cadillac adorned with thousands of pieces of bent tableware given to him by celebrities or otherwise having significance to him. This includes spoons from such people as John Lennon and the Spice Girls, as well as those with which Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy supposedly ate. His friend Michael Jackson was best man when Geller renewed his wedding vows in 2001. Geller also claimed on a BBC Radio 5 Live interview with Nicky Campbell on the morning after Michael Jackson's death (25 June 2009) that Jackson had agreed to let Geller hypnotise him to help him with a problem. Geller said that he did something "highly unethical" by asking him whether he had ever "touched a child in an inappropriate way." Geller says that Jackson immediately denied it under hypnosis. Geller also negotiated the famous TV interview between Jackson with the journalist Martin Bashir: Living with Michael Jackson.
Geller is president of International Friends of Magen David Adom, a group that lobbied the International Committee of the Red Cross to recognise Magen David Adom ("Red Star of David") as a humanitarian relief organisation. After in 1997 trying to help Coca-Cola League One football club Exeter City win a crucial end of season game by placing "energy-infused" crystals behind the goals at Exeter's ground (Exeter lost the game 5–1), he was appointed co-chairman of the club in 2002. The club were relegated to the Nationwide Conference in May 2003, where they remained for five years. He has since severed formal ties with the club.
Following the death of Michael Jackson, the British television station ITV announced plans to screen an interview with Geller regarding his relationship with Jackson, entitled My Friend Michael Jackson: Uri's Story.
Geller has claimed his feats are the result of paranormal powers given to him by extraterrestrials, but critics such as James Randi argue and have demonstrated that Geller's tricks can be replicated with stage magic and are simply "parlour tricks".
In the early 1970s, an article in The Jerusalem Post accused Geller of being a fraud for claiming that his feats were telepathic. In addition, a 1974 article also hints at Geller's abilities being trickery. The article alleged that his manager Shipi Shtrang (whom he called his brother at the time) and Shipi's sister Hannah Shtrang secretly helped in Geller's performances. Eventually, Geller married Hannah and they had children.
In 1975, two scientists (Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff from the Stanford Research Institute) said they were convinced that Geller's demonstrations were genuine. Since that time, however, notable scientists, various magicians, and skeptics have suggested possible ways in which Geller could have tricked the scientists using misdirection techniques. These critics, who include Richard Feynman, James Randi and Martin Gardner, have accused him of using his demonstrations fraudulently outside of the entertainment business. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, who was an amateur magician, wrote in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (1985) that Geller was unable to bend a key for him and his son. Some of his claims have been described by watchmakers as restarting stopped mechanical clocks by moving them around.
Geller is well-known for making predictions regarding sporting events. Skeptic James Randi and British tabloid newspaper The Sun have demonstrated the teams and players he chooses to win most often lose. John Atkinson explored "predictions" Geller made over 30 years and concluded "Uri more often than not scuppered the chances of sportsmen and teams he was trying to help." This was pointed out by one of Randi's readers, who called it "The Curse of Uri Geller."
During the Euro 96 football game between Scotland and England at Wembley, Geller, who was hovering overhead in a helicopter, claimed that he managed to move the ball from the penalty spot when Scotland's Gary McAllister was about to take a penalty kick, something that, if true, would be against the rules of Association football, as the ball would then have been "Out of Play". The player ended up missing the chance to equalise for Scotland. In another notable instance, in 1992, Geller was asked to investigate the kidnapping of Hungarian model Helga Farkas; after he predicted she would be found alive and in good health, she was found to have been murdered by her kidnappers. Geller was a friend of Bruce Bursford and helped him "train his mind" during some cycling speed record-breaking bids in the 1990s.
In 2007, skeptics observed that Geller appeared to have dropped his claims that he does not perform magic tricks. Randi highlighted a quotation from the November 2007 issue of the magazine Magische Welt (Magic World) in which Geller said: "I'll no longer say that I have supernatural powers. I am an entertainer. I want to do a good show. My entire character has changed."
In a later interview, Geller told Telepolis, "I said to this German magazine, so what I did say, that I changed my character, to the best of my recollection, and I no longer say that I do supernatural things. It doesn't mean that I don't have powers. It means that I don't say 'it's supernatural', I say 'I'm a mystifier!' That's what I said. And the sceptics turned it around and said, 'Uri Geller said he's a magician!' I never said that." In that interview, Geller further explained that when he is asked how he does his stunts, he tells children to "Forget the paranormal. Forget spoon bending! Instead of that, focus on school! Become a positive thinker! Believe in yourself and create a target! Go to university! Never smoke! And never touch drugs! And think of success!"
In February 2008, Geller stated in the TV show The Next Uri Geller (a German version of The Successor) that he did not have any supernatural powers, before winking to the camera.
Parallels to stage magic
Geller admits, "Sure, there are magicians who can duplicate [my performances] through trickery." He has claimed that even though his spoon bending can be repeated using trickery, he uses psychic powers to achieve his results. Skeptic James Randi has stated that if Geller is truly using his mind to perform these feats, "He is doing it the hard way."
Stage magicians note several methods of creating the illusion of a spoon spontaneously bending. Most common is the practice of misdirection, an underlying principle of many stage magic tricks. There are many ways in which a bent spoon can be presented to an audience as to give the appearance it was manipulated using supernatural powers. One way is through brief moments of distraction in which a magician can physically bend a spoon unseen by the audience, before gradually revealing the bend to create the illusion that the spoon is bending before the viewers' eyes. Another way is to pre-bend the spoon, perhaps by heating it, reducing the amount of force that needed to be applied to bend it manually. It is also possible to chemically bend the spoon by applying a corrosive to one edge so that the spoon weakens and bends in a set period of time.
During telepathic drawing demonstrations, Geller claimed the ability to read the minds of subjects as they draw a picture. Although in these demonstrations he cannot see the picture being drawn, he is sometimes present in the room, and on these occasions can see the subjects as they draw. Critics argue this may allow Geller to infer common shapes from pencil movement and sound, with the power of suggestion doing the rest.
Watchmakers have noted that "many supposedly broken watches had merely been stopped by gummy oil, and simply holding them in the hand would warm the oil enough to soften it and allow watches to resume ticking."
In November 2008, Geller accepted an award during a convention of magicians, the Services to Promotion of Magic Award from the Berglas Foundation. In his acceptance speech, Geller said that if he hadn't had psychic powers then he "must be the greatest" to have been able to fool journalists, scientists and Berglas himself.
Geller's performances of drawing duplication and cutlery bending usually take place under informal conditions such as television interviews. During his early career he allowed some scientists to investigate his claims. A study by Stanford Research Institute (now known as SRI International) conducted by researchers Harold E. Puthoff and Russell Targ concluded that he had performed successfully enough to warrant further serious study, and the "Geller-effect" was coined to refer to the particular type of abilities they felt had been demonstrated.
In An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, Randi wrote: "Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ, who studied Mr. Geller at the Stanford Research Institute were aware, in one instance at least, that they were being shown a magician's trick by Geller." Moreover, Randi explained, "Their protocols for this 'serious' investigation of the powers claimed by Geller were described by Dr. Ray Hyman, who investigated the project on behalf of the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency, as 'sloppy and inadequate.'" Puthoff and Targ complained in a book about Hyman's procedures. They had suggested that Hyman and co. visit SRI and conduct their own experiments on Geller. This they did, and Hyman and his two colleagues spent ‘a couple of hours’ performing their own experiments on Geller. Hyman would not have observed any testing by Puthoff and Targ. Hyman's experiments were observed and video taped by Puthoff and Targ, who said that they were conducted in an ‘informal manner’ and ‘largely uncontrolled’.
Critics of this testing include psychologists Dr. David Marks and Dr. Richard Kammann, who published a description of how Geller could have cheated in an informal test of his so-called psychic powers in 1977. Their 1978 article in Nature and 1980 book The Psychology of the Psychic (2nd ed. 2000) described how a normal explanation was possible for Geller's alleged powers of telepathy. Marks and Kammann found evidence that while at SRI Geller was allowed to peek through a hole in the laboratory wall separating Geller from the drawings he was being invited to reproduce. The drawings he was asked to reproduce were placed on a wall opposite the peep hole which the investigators Targ and Puthoff had stuffed with cotton gauze. In addition to this error, the investigators had also allowed Geller access to a two-way intercom enabling Geller to listen to the investigators' conversation during the time when they were choosing and/or displaying the target drawings. These basic errors indicate the high importance of ensuring that psychologists, magicians or other people with an in-depth knowledge of perception, who are trained in methods for blocking sensory cues, be present during the testing of psychics.
In 1974, William E. Cox organized a Society of American magicians to 'investigate false claims of ESP'. Geller was tested by several magicians of the Society of American Magicians and impressed them by some positive test results which their expert scrutiny indicated were free of fraud. For example, William E. Cox held a robust key with one finger on a table and watched closely as it bent, with Geller in view and mirrors confirming no trickery.
The Tonight Show failure
Geller was unable to bend any tableware during a 1973 appearance on The Tonight Show in which the spoons he was to bend had been pre-selected by Johnny Carson. Earlier in his career, Carson had been an amateur stage magician, and he consulted James Randi for advice on how to thwart potential trickery. In 1993 Randi explained in "Secrets of the Psychics" for the NOVA television series: "I was asked to prevent any trickery. I told them to provide their own props and not to let Geller or his people anywhere near them." A clip of this incident was televised on the NBC show Phenomenon. This two-minute clip has been widely circulated on the Internet since James Randi acquired permission to use it from NBC, and Carson paid for the videotape transfer. In his television special Secrets of the Psychics, Geller is shown failing at psychic "hand dowsing" (i.e. locating sealed vessels containing water without touching them), not metal bending.
As part of a mass demonstration, Geller’s photograph appeared on the cover of the magazine ESP with the caption “On Sept. 1, 1976 at 11pm E.D.T. THIS COVER CAN BEND YOUR KEYS." According to editor Howard Smukler, over 300 positive responses were received, many including bent objects and detailed descriptions of the surrounding circumstances including the bending of the key to the city of Providence, Rhode Island.
Noel Edmonds was a television prankster who often used hidden cameras to record celebrities in Candid Camera-like situations for his television programme Noel's House Party. In 1996, Edmonds planned a stunt in which shelves would fall from the walls of a room while Geller was in it. The cameras recorded footage of Geller from angles he was not expecting, and they showed Geller grasping a spoon firmly with both hands as he stood up to display a bend in it.
In late 2006 and early 2007, Geller starred in The Successor, an Israeli television show to find his "successor." During one segment, a compass was made to move, purportedly as a result of Geller's paranormal abilities. However, critics say slow motion footage of the episode showed Geller attaching a magnet to his thumb immediately prior to the compass's movement. Geller denied that this was sleight of hand, and said he welcomed the "mystical aura" that the publicity gave him.
Geller performed the same compass trick in 2000 on ABC TV's The View, which was later duplicated by Randi on the same show the following week.
Geller has litigated or threatened legal action against some of his critics with mixed success. These included libel allegations against Randi and illusionist Gérard Majax. In 1971, a mechanical engineering student called Uri Goldstein, attended one of Geller's shows, and subsequently sued the show's promoters for breach of contract. The case came before the civil court in Beersheba, Geller was not present as the summons had been sent to the office of the promoter Miki Peled, who had ignored it as being trivial. As Geller nor Peled were there to defend themselves, Goldstein was awarded 27.5 lira (around $5) for breach of contract. Later, Goldstein admitted that he went to the show specifically with the intent of suing to get his money back, and he had already found a lawyer to represent him prior to attending the performance.
In the early 1990s, Geller filed suits against Prometheus Books, Victor J. Stenger, and Paul Kurtz for statements in their skeptical books; Geller eventually settled, paying more than $20,000 in costs to the publisher.
In a 1989 interview with a Japanese newspaper, Randi was quoted as saying that Geller had driven a scientist to "shoot himself in the head" after finding out that Geller had fooled him. Randi afterwards claimed it was a metaphor lost in translation. However, in a previous interview with a Canadian newspaper, Randi said essentially the same thing; "One scientist, a metallurgist, wrote a paper backing Geller's claims that he could bend metal. The scientist shot himself after I showed him how the key bending trick was done." In 1990, Geller sued Randi in a Japanese court over the statements Randi had made in the Japanese newspaper. Randi claims that he could not afford to defend himself, therefore he lost the case by default. The court declared Randi's statement an "insult" as opposed to libel, and awarded a judgment against Randi for ¥500,000 (at the time about US$4400). Randi feels that, since the charge of "insult" is not recognized by American Law, he was not required to pay, and maintains that he has "never paid even one dollar or even one cent to anyone who ever sued" him.
In 1991, Geller sued Timex Corporation and the advertising firm Fallon McElligott for millions in Geller v. Fallon McElligott over an ad showing a person bending forks and other items, but failing to stop a Timex watch. Geller was sanctioned $149,000 for filing a frivolous lawsuit.
In 1998, the Broadcasting Standards Commission in the United Kingdom rejected a complaint made by Geller, saying that it "wasn't unfair to have magicians showing how they duplicate those "psychic feats'" on the UK Equinox episode "Secrets of the Super Psychics" (this film, made by Open Media, was known on first transmission as Secrets of the Psychics but should not be confused with the earlier NOVA film of the same name). The full text of the BSC adjudication is available online here.
He also considered a suit against IKEA over a furniture line featuring bent legs that was called the "Uri" line.
In November 2000, Geller sued video game company Nintendo for £60 million (the equivalent of US $100 million) over the Pokémon character "Yungerer," localized in English as "Kadabra", which he claimed was an unauthorised appropriation of his identity. The Pokémon in question has psychic abilities and carries a bent spoon. Geller also claimed that the star on Kadabra's forehead and the lightning patterns on its abdomen are symbolisms popular with the Waffen SS of Nazi Germany. The katakana for the character's name, ユンゲラー, is visually similar to the transliteration of Geller's own name into Japanese (ユリゲラー). He is quoted as saying: "Nintendo turned me into an evil, occult Pokémon character. Nintendo stole my identity by using my name and my signature image." The lawsuit was thrown out of court.
In 2007, Geller issued a DMCA notice to YouTube to remove a video uploaded by Brian Sapient of the "Rational Response Squad" which was excerpted from the "Nova" television program titled "Secrets of the Psychics." The video included footage of Geller failing to perform. In response, Sapient contacted the Electronic Frontier Foundation, issued a DMCA counter-notice, and sued Geller for misuse of the DMCA. Geller's company, Explorologist, filed a counter-suit. Both cases were settled out of court; a monetary settlement was paid (but it's not clear by and to whom) and the eight seconds of footage owned by Explorologist were licensed under a noncommercial Creative Commons license.
Lamb Island, Scotland
On 11 February 2009, Geller purchased the uninhabited 100 yard-by-50 yard Lamb Island off the eastern coast of Scotland, previously known for its witch trials, and beaches that Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have described in his novel Treasure Island. Geller claims that buried on the island is Egyptian treasure, brought there by Scota, the half-sister of Tutankhamen 3,500 years ago and that he will find the treasure through dowsing. Geller also claimed to have strengthened the mystical powers of the island by burying there a crystal orb once belonging to Albert Einstein.