You’ve Probably Never Heard Of America’s Creepiest Magician
This guy doesn’t saw his assistants in half. He cremates them.
Stage magic is a pretty safe endeavor. People mostly view magicians as genial dorks doing card tricks and fake escapes. The audience knows they’re watching something that’s not real, so why take it seriously? Even the woman getting sawed in half isn’t in any danger, her body cleverly contorted within the box as the blades go in.
Ron Fitzgerald wants to change that.
The Chicago-based “gothic illusionist” takes a very different approach to his performances. Whether it’s swallowing razor blades or cremating his assistants, Fitzgerald leans in heavily to the horror aspect of magic. Blood flows. His performances elicit a wide range of emotion, from awe to disgust.
And it’s working for him. Powered by an insatiable hustle, he’s performed all over the world and even produced and starred in a feature film.
I recently had a wide-ranging phone conversation with Ron about his life and his 25-year career. He started by telling me how his performances were pretty conventional at first.
“In the beginning, my act was very traditional — formalwear, doves, rabbits tuxedos, crap like that. I was just regurgitating what I had been taught. I had some mentors who were really traditional in nature, and then I got to a point where it was very clear to me that it was a nice family show but no longer entertaining.”
So Ron went back to the drawing board. He built a new personality for himself out of a melange of horror flicks, Gothic fashion and industrial music. His act became significantly edgier, but at a cost.
“All my old business dried up, but it was creatively much more satisfying. On a business level it was dismantling everything I’d done and building again from the ground up.”
It’s not easy for a performer like Ron to get steady gigs, and he’s always on his hustle looking for places to do the act for bigger audiences. Needless to say, he can’t really do the family-friendly parties and such that are the bread and butter for many working illusionists.
“Making a living as a magician — it’s like, for so many more mainstream things, there are established venues in every town. There’s venues for music, comedy, things like that. But for magic, there are very few magic venues. You’re kind of outside of everything as a magician. Taking that and coupling it with dark art and horror, it’s even more outside. I’m an outsider of the outside world.”
That said, the daily life of a magician is pretty similar to any other performing artist.
“There is no average day for me. If I’m booked, I am rehearsing, prepping, making all the logistical plans to get me and anyone else working with me there and coordinated and ready to go. There’s a lot of work involved with just doing the events — go in, set up, do the show, take it down. The rest of the time is spent on the computer and the phone. I’m booking things, fielding things, doing press, keeping up with social media, constantly, constantly promoting and telling people that I’m out there.”
Ron performs all over the place. Sci-fi and horror conventions, burlesque shows, private parties. He did a month’s residency in Hong Kong and closed out the second stage at Lollapalooza in 1995. But what he’s most excited about is his film “Dark Realm,” which he released in 2013 and is hitting streaming services and DVD this year. The closest comparison I can give it is Herschell Gordon Lewis’s sleaze classic “The Wizard of Gore,” which is about a malevolent magician who brutally mutilates women during his act. Ron’s film is a lot classier and more experimental.
“Personally and professionally, ‘Dark Realm’ brought everything together for me — my acting, my illusion show, making a horror film and a performance film and kind of an art film as well. That’s a major achievement for me. I had a good partner and it just brought a lot of things together and I’m still anxious for it to get out there in front of its larger audience. It’s really one of a kind. I’m hoping it finds its audience and does its evil work.”
The thing many people don’t realize about the magic business is that so much of it depends on preparation. Every motion is plotted out to the utmost detail, because a wrong move can literally be fatal.
“I have had a $10,000 illusion, I went to roll it out and something was wrong and I rolled it right back offstage and moved on to the next piece in the show, if you don’t make a big deal the audience won’t. Shit happens. You just have to plow through it, you simply move on. Never let them see you sweat.”
What I love about Ron is his sheer glee at the work itself. No matter how many times he does his act, no matter the size of the audience, it still gives him a thrill.
“I did my Vampire’s Kiss illusion, where I take a 12-inch steel needle through the neck of my lovely companion. You can see the needle wiggling under her skin. People have watched it up close with their fingers over their face because it’s so hard to watch. At this event, they put me up on the Jumbotron. When I pushed the needle in, his amazing wave of amusement and gross out and laughter and applause went through this audience of 28,000 people. Everybody was properly entertained… in one way or another.”
One thing that we touched on was how magic has changed in the past hundred years. It’s become more analytical, less mysterious. Ron sees himself as bringing back a lost era, when magicians pushed the envelope of the occult in their performances.
“A long time ago magic distanced itself from the supernatural. We live in an age of technology, people now are by and large less superstitious. But on a basic level, there’s still things that scare them. I coupled magic with the horror genre to start to tap back into that. The audience is intelligent enough to know that these are illusions. Old school magicians flirted with the supernatural through their imagery, so to me there was always a clear connection between the dark side and along with horror films, all that melded together in my brain.”
Despite standing pretty far afield from his magician brethren, Ron Fitzgerald isn’t making any compromises in his career. He made the decision to step away from safe, corporate magic to pursue a unique and freaky vision, and through sheer force of will he’s making it work. His performances tap into something that has captivated humanity for centuries, and he’s going to ride it as long as he can.
“Everybody likes spooky weird stuff, it’s ingrained in us so much. Even Shakespeare told ghost stories.”