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Uri Geller

Uri Geller (אורי גלר, born György Gellér (Hungarian name) December 20, 1946) is an Israeli-British performer and magician who once claimed "to be able to bend spoons with the power of his mind" and to have psychic powers, although he currently prefers to the designation of "mystifier" rather than "psychic.

Early life

Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, to Jewish parents with Austro-Hungarian background, Geller was named after a cousin who had been killed in a bus accident. He was the only child of retired Army sergeant Itzhaak Geller and Manzy Freud. Geller says he is a relative of Sigmund Freud on his mother's side.

At the age of 11, Geller and his family moved to Nicosia, Cyprus, where he attended a Catholic high school and learned English. Then 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, and in the same year, he began to perform for small audiences as a nightclub entertainer, becoming well-known in Israel.

After seeing a performance by the British magician and mentalist David Berglas, Geller began to bend spoons as he had seen Berglas do. Geller first started to perform as a magician in nightclubs in Tel Aviv. By the 1970s Geller became popular in the United States and Europe. He also received attention from the scientific community who were interested in examining his claims of psychic abilities. At the peak of his career in the 1970s he worked full-time, performing for television audiences worldwide.

Career

Geller rose to fame after performing a series of televised performances which he said were paranormal demonstrations of psychokinesis, dowsing, and telepathy. His performance included bending spoons, describing hidden drawings, and making watches appear to stop or run faster. Geller said he performs these feats through willpower and the strength of his mind. Critics have demonstrated that his performances can be duplicated using stage magic tricks.

Geller owns a 1976 Cadillac adorned with thousands of pieces of bent tableware given to him by celebrities or otherwise having historical or other significance. It includes spoons from celebrities such as John Lennon and the Spice Girls, and those with which Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy ate. Geller designed the logo for popular music group 'N SYNC and contributed artwork to Michael Jackson's CD, Invincible.

Jackson was best man when Geller renewed his wedding vows in 2001. Geller also negotiated the famous TV interview between Jackson with the journalist Martin Bashir: Living with Michael Jackson. In BBC television interviews, Geller has since admitted that he has not been in contact with Jackson since this time. Geller says that he has split with Jackson because of anti-Semitic statements Jackson had purportedly made.

Geller has affiliations with various groups. He 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 2 football club Exeter City win a crucial end of season game by placing energy-infused crystals behind the goals at Exeter's ground (Exeter would eventually lose the game 5-1) he was appointed co-chairman of the club in 2002. The club would be relegated to the Nationwide Conference in May 2003, where they were to remain for 5 years. He has since severed formal ties with the club.

In recent years Geller has been a part of several television programs. Geller starred in the 2001 horror film Sanitarium directed by Johannes Roberts and James Eaves. Then 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 8th place. In 2005 Geller starred in the XI Pictures/Lion TV production for Sky One 'Uri's Haunted Cities: Venice' (which led to a behind the scenes release in early 2008 called 'Cursed') Both productions were directed by Jason Figgis. Then 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, which started airing on October 24 to search for the next great mentalist, which contestant Mike Super won. Geller also hosts the TV show The Next Uri Geller, which started on January 8th, 2008, and is 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 program is to find the best mentalist in The Netherlands. He started the same show in Hungary from March 29, 2008 (A kiválasztott in Hungarian). During the show Geller speaks both in Hungarian and in English. Geller also performs his standard routines of making stopped watches start, spoons jump from televisions, and tables move. Geller co-produced the TV show "Book of Knowledge," released in April, 2008.

Geller currently lives in Sonning-on-Thames, Berkshire, England. In recent years, he has performed demonstrations such as spoon-bending much less frequently in public. He is a vegan and speaks three languages: 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 sixteen fiction and nonfiction books.

Paranormal claims

Geller claims his feats are the result of paranormal powers but critics such as James Randi argue that Geller's tricks can be easily reproduced with stage magic and are simply "parlour tricks."

As early as 1970 in his home country, Geller was termed a "fraud" for claiming his feats were telepathic. In addition a 1974 article detailed how Geller got away with trickery and exposed Geller's "eleven tricks." 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 were persuaded that Geller's demonstrations were genuine, but since that time 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 simply restarting stopped mechanical clocks by moving them around.

Geller is well-known for his sports predictions. Sceptic James Randi and British tabloid The Sun (among others) have demonstrated the teams and players he chooses to win most often lose. John Atkinson explored "predictions" Geller made over thirty 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 James Randi's readers, who called it "The Curse of Uri Geller".

In another notable instance, in 1992, he was paid to investigate the kidnapping of Hungarian model Helga Farkas, and, although he predicted she would be found alive and in good health, she was murdered by her kidnappers.

In 2007, sceptics observed that Geller appeared to have dropped his 35 year old claims that he does not perform magic tricks. James Randi highlighted a quotation from the November 2007 issue of the magazine Magische Welt (Magic World) in which Geller said that "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 he said in the TV show The Next Uri Geller (a German version of The Successor), that he did not have any supernatural powers, but he winked when he said it.

Parallels to stage magic

Geller admits "Sure, there are magicians who can duplicate [my performances] through trickery." He claims that even though his demonstrations could have been done using trickery, he happens to use psychic powers to achieve his results. Skeptic James Randi, star of "Secrets of the Psychics," 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.

According to Randi, there are many ways in which a bent spoon can be presented to an audience as to give the appearance it was done with supernatural powers. One way is through one or several brief moments of distraction in which a magician can physically bend a spoon unseen by the audience. Then the bend is gradually revealed creating the illusion that the spoon is bending before the viewers' eyes. Another way, if a performer does not bend the spoon with force during the performance is by pre-bending them (for example by heating them) and thus reducing the amount of force later needed to be applied. 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.

Geller claims in "telepathic drawing" demonstrations that he is able to read subjects' minds 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 those 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. James Randi has also suggested that Geller uses tiny mirrors held in his palm in order to see the drawings, noting how in one performance of this trick he both turned around when the participant commenced drawing and, seemingly unnecessarily, covered his eyes with his hands.

In his telepathy demonstrations, Geller sometimes, but not always, reveals his answer slowly while asking whether he is on the right track. This approach is consistent with a stage magic technique known as cold reading, in which a magician tricks a subject into revealing information by suggesting that he already knows it.

Testing

Geller's performances of drawing duplication and cutlery bending usually take place under informal conditions such as television interviews. During his early career he did allow some scientists to investigate his claims. Geller points to a study by Stanford Research Institute (now known as SRI International) researchers Harold E. Puthoff and Russell Targ which concluded that he had clearly 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. Both scientists now concede to skeptics that the effect might have been the result of a skilled conjurer at work, though they still consider this to be very unlikely.

As part of a mass-demonstration, Geller’s photograph appeared on the cover of the cult 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.

Geller's "watch fixing" abilities do not impress watch makers who note "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 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 a U.S. funding agency, as 'sloppy and inadequate'."

Other critics of this testing include psychologists Dr. David Marks and Dr. Richard Kammann. They published a description of how Geller could have cheated in an informal test of his ESP powers in 1977. Their 1978 article in Nature and 1980 book The Psychology of the Psychic (2nd ed. 2000) described how a perfectly normal explanation was possible for Geller's alleged powers of telepathy. Marks and Kammann found strong 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 self-proclaimed psychics.

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 preselected by Johnny Carson. Earlier in his career, Carson had been an amateur stage magician, and consulted James Randi for advice on how to thwart potential trickery. Randi explained in a 1993 "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, which has been widely circulated on the Internet since James Randi acquired permission to use it from NBC (videotape transfer paid for by Carson) in his television special Secrets of the Psychics only shows Geller failing at psychic "hand dowsing," not metal bending. However, in the television special Randi demonstrates how to bend spoons with seemingly mental powers.

Controversial performances

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. Geller later claimed that he knew that Edmonds's crew had been filming, and that he made the shelves fall off the wall with his psychic powers.

In late 2006 and early 2007 Geller starred in The Successor, an Israeli television show to find a "successor" to him. During one segment, Geller tried to move a compass with paranormal abilities. However, video cameras caught Geller with magnet-on-thumb (magnets cause compasses to move in the direction of the magnet). Geller then tried to force YouTube to remove the clips that showed the unflattering thumb.

This trick was also done by Geller in 2000 on ABC TV's The View, which was then duplicated by Randi on the same show the following week.

On October 31, 2007 Criss Angel challenged Geller and Phenomenon contestant Jim Callahan to prove they had supernatural abilities. Angel pulled two envelopes from his pocket and said, "I will give you a million dollars of my personal money right now if either one of you can tell me specific details of what’s in here right now." After some shouting, Angel and Callahan then moved toward each other. Geller and the show's host, Tim Vincent, moved quickly to keep them apart. Shortly thereafter, the show cut to a commercial break.

On November 21, 2007, Criss Angel again offered Uri Geller $1,000,000 on the finale of NBC's nationally televised Phenomenon. Geller said, "although we were born one day apart, I was born on the 20th December and you were on the 19th ... there are a lot of years between us ... 40 years you were one year old when I came out with my spoon bending." As Geller was speaking Angel said, "I told you that, correct" and then interrupted Geller to reveal the numbers 911. Then Angel concluded, "If somebody could predict, tell us on 9-10 that 9-11 was going to happen, maybe that could have prevented it."

Litigation

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.

Early in Geller's career "a man who had attended one of Geller's shows was dissatisfied and took Geller to court on the ground that he had cheated by using magician's tricks rather than displaying true psychic powers as promised." An Israeli court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and ordered court costs as well as the price of the ticket to be paid by Geller.

Notably, three lawsuits Geller filed against Prometheus Books, a publisher of skeptical books, which had falsely asserted that Geller had been arrested and convicted in Israel for misrepresenting himself as a psychic, were dismissed in the U.S. as they were filed after the statute of limitations had expired, and Geller was obliged to pay more than $20,000 in costs to the defendant. Upon the final resolution of the Prometheus suit, the chairman of the publishing house, Paul Kurtz, stated, "It seems Mr. Geller's alleged psychic powers weren't working correctly when he decided to file this suit." Kurtz did, however, provide Geller with a written apology and acknowledgment of error on behalf of Prometheus Books after Geller agreed to drop an identical suit filed in London.

In a 1989 interview with a Japanese newspaper, Randi was quoted as saying that Uri 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 yen (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 the Timex Watch Company for millions in Geller v. Fallon McElligott (No. 90-Civ-2839, July 22, 1991) and 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

In November 2000, Geller sued video game company Nintendo 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 bent spoons. 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, and he was outraged at the connotations that Nintendo had supposedly made. Although the symbols are derived from Zener cards, the name is a pun; the katakana n (ン) resembles the kana ri (リ) (the transliteration of Mr. Geller's name into Katakana would be ユリゲラー Yurigerā). Geller sued for £60 million (the equivalent of US $100 million) but lost.

He also considered a suit against IKEA over a furniture line featuring bent legs that was called the "Uri" line.

Copyright claims

In March 2007, videos clearly showing Geller cheating were removed from YouTube due to copyright claims by Explorologist Limited. Explorologist Limited is operated by Geller who owns 75% of the company and his long time manager/brother-in-law Shimshon [Shipi] Shtrang who owns 25%. James Randi noted Geller does not own the copyright to these clips, which includes Geller's appearance on The Tonight Show.

On May 8, 2007 the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued Geller on behalf of Brian Sapient for making false claims to force YouTube to remove a video. YouTube eventually reversed their decision to remove the video. The EFF posted the documents pertaining to Sapient v. Geller online.

The removals have caused a backlash against Geller.

In a press release by Explorologist Lmt (Geller's business), it was announced that on February 3, 2008, Judge Vaughn R. Walker dismissed the EFF's lawsuit on the basis that the court did not have jurisdiction over Geller, a British subject, or Explorologist, LTD, an English company. Walker suggested that the case could be handled in Philadelphia where Geller filed suit against the same skeptic, claiming that the YouTube post violated British Copyright Law.

Bibliography

Non-fiction books by Geller

  • My Story. Henry Holt & Company, Inc. (April 1975) ISBN 0030301963
  • Uri Geller and Guy Lyon Playfair. The Geller Effect. Grafton, Jonathan Cape, Hunter Publishing, (1988) ISBN 0586074309 ISBN 978-0586074305
  • Uri Geller and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Confessions of a Psychic and a Rabbi. (Foreword by Deepak Chopra) Element Books Ltd (March 2000) ISBN 1862047243
  • Uri Geller and Lulu Appleton. Mind Medicine. Element Books Ltd (October 1999) ISBN 1862044775
  • Uri Geller's Little Book of Mind Power. Robson Books (August 1999) ISBN 186105193X
  • Uri Geller's Mind Power Kit. Penguin USA (1996) ISBN 0670871389
  • Uri Geller's Fortune Secrets. (Edited with Simon Turnbull) Psychic Hotline Pty Limited (May 21, 1987) ISBN 0722138121
  • Unorthodox Encounters. Chrysalis Books (2001) ISBN 1861053665

Fiction books by Geller

  • Ella. Martinez Roca, March 1999. ISBN 0747259208
  • Shawn. Goodyer Associates Ltd. ISBN 1871406099
  • Pampini. World Authors, 1980. ISBN 0899750001
  • Dead Cold. ISBN 0747259216

Books about Geller

  • Colin, Jim. The Strange Story of Uri Geller. Raintree, 1975 ISBN 0817210377 (48 pages)
  • Ebon, Martin. The Amazing Uri Geller. Signet 1975. ISBN 0451064755
  • Ben Harris Gellerism Revealed. Micky Hades International 1985 ISBN 0-919230-92-X
  • Margolis, Jonathan. Uri Geller Magician or Mystic?. Welcome Rain / Orion ISBN 0752810065
  • Marks, David. The Psychology of the Psychic (2nd Ed.) New York: Prometheus Books, 2000. ISBN 1573927988
  • Gardner, Martin. Confessions of a Psychic. (under the pseudonym "Uriah Fuller" (an allusion to Geller) that purport to explain "how fake psychics perform seemingly incredible paranormal feats".) Karl Fulves, 1975.
  • Gardner, Martin. Further Confessions of a Psychic. (under the pseudonym "Uriah Fuller") 1980.
  • Panati, Charles. The Geller Papers. Houghton Mifflin.
  • Puharich, Andrija, Uri: A Journal of the Mystery of Uri Geller. Anchor Press / Doubleday
  • Randi, James, The Magic of Uri Geller. (Later editions are titled The Truth About Uri Geller). New York: Prometheus Books, Ballintine, 1982. ISBN 0-87975-199-1
  • Taylor, John G.. Superminds. Macmillian/Picador
  • Wilhelm, John. In Search of Superman. Pocket Books, 1976. ISBN 0671805908
  • Wilson, Colin. The Geller Phenomenon. Aldus Books, 1976. ISBN 0717281051

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