You don’t have to believe in magic to be stunned by local illusionist, sideshow performer and Guinness World Record holder Richie Magic – mostly because Magic’s famed anti-smoking stunt, in which he shoves dozens of lit cigarettes into his mouth, chews them into an ashy pulp and spits out the charred remains, is 100 percent real.
Magic’s reputation transcended the 10583 area code after an AOL Weird News video in which the magician orally extinguished 70 cigarettes in 60 seconds went viral last month. AOL's story garnered Magic national publicity, and also helped him break the original record he established two years prior.
“I set my first World Record on July 5, 2009, by orally extinguishing, chewing and expelling 20 cigarettes — one at a time — in 20 seconds,” said Magic, who also plans to attempt another World Record with a handcuffed underwater escape this summer in Yonkers. "After I set my first record, I wanted to set a new one for a purpose.”
Magic, 55, has performed magic and sideshow acts for crowds since he was 10 years old. The reason Magic claims he bears the brunt of a burnt and blistered mouth, however, isn’t to gain notoriety or break World Records. Instead, it’s to prevent children from picking up a cigarette.
“Smoking is vile and disgusting,” Magic said. “If you smoke, your mouth will look, smell, taste and feel like a human ashtray. That’s what I try to convince kids.”
Together, Magic and his friend David Adamovich (an ordained minister who moonlights as famed knife thrower “Throwdini”) were able transform Magic’s sideshow trick into a center stage anti-smoking campaign.
“We came up with an idea: Let’s do the World Record, and let’s send a message to children that smoking is gross. It’s a hygiene issue; it makes you smell like smoke. Maybe your girlfriend won’t kiss you,” Magic said.
On Aug. 29, 2009, Magic debuted his new anti-smoking message to a crowd in Queens. As Magic stuffed his cheeks with 200 lit cigarettes in under 6 minutes, 4 seconds, he made sure to chew with his mouth open. Wide-eyed children watched in horror as Magic’s molars ground the tar, ash and paper into a viscous black sludge that coated his tongue, lips and throat — a veritable human ashtray.
“I constantly showed my mouth in order to horrify children. I think I turned a lot of them against smoking,” Magic said.
The Associated Press covered the event, and Magic woke up the next day to find his face stretched across the Metro section of the New York Daily News. The stunt also propelled Magic into the Ripley’s Believe it or Not comic strip — an image that’s now proudly tattooed across his left bicep, bordered by an ink rabbit bouncing out of a top hat, a pair of dice and his hero, Houdini.
Over the next year, Magic scorched his tongue three more times, simultaneously extinguishing 20 cigarettes in his mouth on March 30, 2010, followed by 60 cigarettes in 60 seconds on June 29, 2010. AOL Weird News covered Magic's latest record-breaking performance, a public show in Washington Square Park, on June 19.
By then, however, New York City had officially banned outdoor smoking… causing Magic’s extinguished cigarettes to ignite controversy.
“After I set my first World Record, I swore to the world that I would never smoke another cigarette. Two or three months later, I relapsed,” Magic said.
Originally slated to take place on May 23 outside the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum in Times Square, Magic’s event was cancelled after Ripley’s officials heard from AOL Weird News that Magic had returned to the habit he so strongly opposed.
“I’ve quit smoking a few times between Oct. 2009 and now. I’ve consistently relapsed and failed. I’ve tried a million different methods, from Nicorette gum and the patch to hypnosis and acupuncture. I realize it will kill me at some point, whether through cancer or heart disease,” Magic said.
Magic independently staged the feat and had Record Holders Republic approve the results. The AOL Weird News video showcasing the World Record-breaking stunt also received close to 30,000 hits online – ensuring that viewers indeed heard Magic’s message, even if some indicated that they hadn't accepted its presentation.
“Some people made some negative comments. They say, ‘Maybe he’ll get mouth cancer,’ or ‘I don’t see the point.' But you know what? Those people might just be haters. My message is coming from my heart. And if one child doesn’t smoke because of my message, I feel like I hit a grand slam,” Magic said.
Magic grew up in the Bronx, where he learned his first sleights-of-hand as a 10-year-old aspiring magician.
“By the time I was 15 and 16, I made more money with one magic show than my father did in a week. But my father told me to get a real job,” Magic said.
Magic worked as a prison guard for the Westchester County Department of Corrections for 26 years. There, he encountered celebrity inmates such as Ace Frehley before retiring four years ago to pursue magic full time.
“I wish my parents had given me the encouragement to be a full-time magician. I think it would have been a happier life,” Magic said. “I base my life upon being a person who provides happiness and smiles to others.”
Magic says that he and his wife, Barbara Nista, practice magic every day at local magicians’ clubs or charity performances. The two plan to start their own performance venue in Manhattan.
“We did produce a few shows in Yonkers. They were pretty good shows. But we’re now bringing the venue to the East Village in Manhattan on a weekly basis. What we want to do is bring amazing entertainment featuring comic, magic and variety at affordable prices. We’re not hoping to profit. We’re just hoping to break even to provide happiness for others,” Magic said.
Since setting his first World Record, Magic has had several brushes with celebrity, including a stint on Jerry Seinfeld’s “Marriage Ref.” He currently has no plans to break his cigarette record, although he did say that he might attempt the stunt for a charitable cause, such as pediatric cancer.
“Performing the trick feels like pieces of my tongue are coming off,” Magic said. “It’s not good. But I’m willing to sacrifice pain for a child not to smoke. My message is coming from my heart.”