Magician and entertainer Paul Daniels has died following a brief battle with cancer. On 20th February it was announced that he had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. His publicist said today:
“One of our most beloved entertainers, Paul Daniels, has passed away at the age of 77. The TV star, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour earlier this year, passed away peacefully at home with Debbie at his side in the early hours of this morning.”
Paul Daniels was born in Middlesborough in 1938, the son of a cinema projectionist. During National Service and a posting in Hong Kong, he developed magic tricks to impress his peers and continued practicing his act whilst running a retail business in Yorkshire. Daniels decided to develop his magic professionally on the unforgiving club circuit and made his big break in 1969 with a Summer season engagement in Newquay. He soon rose to fame, coming second in Opportunity Knocks, the leading talent-scouting show of its day. Daniels quickly joined the company of a number of variety shows throughout the 1970s with his unique blend of illusion and comedy proving a hit with television audiences.
In 1979 the BBC launched The Paul Daniels Magic Show, which was to garner record audience figures of fifteen million. During this period Daniels also fronted numerous other gameshow projects, including Every Second Counts and Wipeout. He also anchored the fondly-remembered children’s series Wizbit. Behind the scenes, Daniels was often responsible for designing illusions and effects for some of the biggest West End shows, including Phantom of the Opera.
Daniels married dancer Debbie McGee, who had been his assistant for several years, in 1988. With an age gap of some twenty years, the couple often courted attention from tabloid press and satirists, becoming the first non-political figures to be parodied in Spitting Image. In 2000, documentary maker Louis Theroux followed Daniels and McGee when the latter launched her own dance company, Ballet Imaginaire.
Later years saw Daniels and McGee perform across Europe with The Intimate Magic Tour, a production he stated was based on the stripped-down and personal performance style of magician Max Malini. Daniels also mentored a number of new and upcoming performers, such as Chris Cross, who he was due to perform with in May.
In September 2015, Daniels spoke to Entertainment Focus about the future of magic and illusion in performance: “The future of magic will be the same as it has been for all of time; things will appear and disappear, technology will make it more difficult for the magician but then it always did. We went to see a so-called hologram of Les Dawson on a TV show, but it wasn’t as it was a version of Pepper’s Ghost, which is an old illusion. But there was Les in the middle of the stage playing the piano. So, if you have seen that, how can you trust your eyes when you see a girl walk into a box? The magician has to overcome those possibilities, but they will, because they always have.”
Paul Daniels passed away at his Berkshire home, surrounded by his family. He is survived by his wife Debbie McGee and three sons, Gary, Paul and Martin from his first marriage to Jacqueline Skipworth, with two grandchildren.