Truth or Illusion?
By Alex Tresniowski
The FBI Investigates Magician David Copperfield—and Raids His Las Vegas Magic Museum—after a Woman He Met During a Performance Accuses Him of Assault and Rape
A pretty young model sits in the dark, watching David Copperfield work his magic. As audience members around her are plucked from their seats and put onstage to be a part of the illusionist’s world-famous show, she says to her friend, “I’m sure all the people who go up there are actors.” But then, suddenly, Copperfield touches her shoulder and says, “Come with me.” “He asked me to do a trick with him, and after the show he asked for my phone number,” says Belgian model-turned-photographer Ambre Frisque, 29, who met Copperfield at a 2000 show in Brussels and went on to date him for more than three years. “Later on he showed me a tape of the show where he saw me and said, ‘Oh my God, she’s pretty, I want to meet her.’”
Below: a photo of Ambre Frisque
Now another woman who met the magician the same way is accusing him of raping her on his private island in the Bahamas this July. According to the Seattle Times, the unnamed woman, an aspiring model from Washington, told authorities that Copperfield, 51, had an assistant approach her at a Jan. 25 show in Kennewick, Wa., and escort her and her family to special seats before picking her to help him with a trick. The woman claims she later agreed to accompany Copperfield to Musha Cay—his secluded, 150-acre retreat 85 miles southeast of Nassau—but was shocked to discover she was his only guest. During her two-day stay, she told Seattle police and FBI agents, Copperfield assaulted and raped her; a Seattle grand jury is investigating the charges. Copperfield denied any wrongdoing through his attorney, David Chesnoff, who says his client “has never struck, forced himself or threatened any woman.” Copperfield himself “is horrified” by the allegations, says friend and art-gallery owner Helly Nahmad. “Nothing here fits; there is no past history. This is out of the blue.”
Several of Copperfield’s friends and colleagues who spoke with PEOPLE say they are stunned by the charges. “He’s a fantastic guy, very caring, and he would never hurt anybody,” says Frisque, who split with Copperfield in 2003. The rape charge “is so not him, I’m sure it’s impossible.” Restaurateur Paul Sevigny has known Copperfield for 10 years and says “he treats women beautifully. And the chicks this guy is with—it’s unreal. Five years ago everyone was saying he was gay, and now he’s a rapist? Not for a second did I think this could be true.”
Yet the Seattle Times reported that investigators have a rape kit assembled shortly after the accuser returned to the U.S. from Musha Cay. On Oct. 17 FBI agents raided Copperfield’s rarely seen magic museum and warehouse in Las Vegas. In the wake of leaks to the media by federal officials, the FBI—brought in because the alleged victim travelled in and out of the U.S.—is no longer commenting on the case.
Now the man who walked through China’s Great Wall and made the Statue of Liberty vanish must face perhaps his stickiest predicament. Raised in middle-class Metuchen, N.J.—his father owned a clothing store, and his mother was an insurance adjuster—David Seth Kotkin discovered his destiny the day his mom took him to a magic store when he was 10. At 14, he invented a trick mind-reading pen; at 16, he was teaching a college magic course. He went on to host a series of CBS specials on his way to becoming, according to most experts, the premier illusionist of his time.
Along with his reputation for perfectionism and tireless work ethic—he routinely performs as many as 500 shows a year—Copperfield was known to date women he met during his shows. In 1993 he invited model Claudia Schiffer onstage for a trick; just months later they were engaged. The couple stayed together for six years before splitting in 1999, amid rumors their relationship was simply a business arrangement. “Why would Claudia give up all those years of her life for a fake relationship?” Copperfield told PEOPLE in 2001, shooting down the charge. (He also denied rumors about his sexuality, saying, “If I was gay, I’d be proud of it. But God didn’t make me that way.”)
Friends and colleagues say Copperfield keeps such a hectic schedule that meeting women any other way is difficult. “It’s not like David can walk into a bar and mingle,” says a female former assistant who helped Copperfield select audience members for tricks. “David never once told me to get pretty girls to join him; his directions were more like, ‘Get people who will be energetic.’ But other assistants told me he likes young, blonde women, so I sort of gravitated towards them.” After his split from Schiffer, says the ex-assistant, he “got more flirty with women in the audience, but even then it wasn’t weird. I figured it was just his way of meeting girls.”
Not much is known about Copperfield’s encounter with his accuser. Apparently she did agree to go with him to Musha Cay, a cluster of four islands that Copperfield bought for $45.5 million in 2006 and that is only accessible by boat and charter plane. Was she, as she claims, the only guest? Possibly, but people familiar with the resort say there are normally at least 10 staffers there. “There were often beautiful women with him,” says one ex-employee, “but I never saw anyone there against their will.” Austrian model Barbara Duerrer says she accompanied Copperfield to Musha Cay in April 2006, and that after she rejected his romantic attention, he was courteous about it. “We laughed a lot; we had nice dinners,” says Duerrer. “It was sweet.”
While the grand jury decides whether or not to recommend formal rape and assault charges against Copperfield—who has yet to be interviewed by authorities—his friends have been reaching out and offering support. “He’s a perfect gentleman who has always treated his girlfriends with respect and care,” says one female friend who has known him for several years. “He’s always so sweet; that’s why this doesn’t make sense. I just don’t think David has a dark side.”
- Jeffrey Slonim/New York,
- Molly Lopez/New York,
- Steve Helling/Orlando,
- Mark Gray/Las Vegas,
- Howard Breuer/Los Angeles
Have you ever heard of the World Magic Awards Show? Yeah, me neither. Anyway, their 2007 show didn’t attract many top people nor top magicians. Here’s an article written on Fox News, although I don’t know why they say it was aired on MTV? Was it?
Our Favorite Magicians Ever
By Amy Harrington & Nancy Harrington - Getback
This week the 2009 World Magic Awards aired on MTV, and while prestidigitation sometimes gets a bad rap (OK, we admit Doug Henning did not do much for the industry’s hip factor), in our minds, the thrill of illusion doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
We saw David Copperfield perform in the ’80s. He made a motorcycle — with him on it — disappear from the stage and reappear in the middle of the theater on a platform that covered a few rows of seats about 20 feet away from us. Now we get that there was probably a stunt double onstage, but there was NO accounting for the bike. People nearby were touching it and the chairs below it. It was not a hologram or mirror trick. There was no trap door in the floor and nothing suspended from the ceiling — just a 650-pound chopper carrying the Master of Illusion himself. It blew our minds.
To us, all the current-day spellbinders owe a huge debt of gratitude to Copperfield. And while many of the performers’ presentations can be a bit cheesy, we are big fans of the art. Here’s our list of our favorite magicians EVER!
Siegfried & Roy
It’s a life-long question that only Hall and Oates can relate to — which one is Siegfried and which one is Roy. The answer is simple: it doesn’t matter. One would not be a success without the other. Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn met on a cruise ship where Siegfried was a magician. Roy (the dark-haired one, for those who are still curious) joined him as his assistant and upped the ante by adding a cheetah to the act (Roy had allegedly smuggled the wild animal onboard the ship). The German-born magicians ultimately became a staple of the Las Vegas magic scene, signing a lifetime contract with Steve Wynn’s Mirage Hotel.
But things went terribly wrong on Roy’s birthday in 2003. That night, one of their legendary white tigers, Montecore,grabbed Roy by the neck, seriously injuring the illusionist. There are many theories about what happened that night. Some say Montecore tried to protect Roy when he stumbled, in a protective mother/cub kind of way. Some say it was a brutal attack by a wild animal. Still others contend that Montecore got distracted by the oversized hairdo of a fan in the front row, and that when the woman reached out to pet the dangerous feline, Roy sacrificed himself by getting in between them. A final theory holds that Montecore, injured by a trap door, was scared and accidentally injured Roy in a pileup with the tiger and some stagehands.
Whatever Montecore’s motivation, the illusionist was in critical condition for weeks and suffered partial paralysis as the result of a stroke. The act was put on hold for five years while Horn went through intensive rehabilitation. But six years later, Roy proved to the world — and the tiger —that it was all water under the bridge. In a ten-minute performance filmed for “20/20,” Siegfried, Roy, and Montecore performed together one last time before officially retiring.
Doug Henning was a Canadian il-LUUU-sionist who brought a truly theatrical flair to his work (and his stage clothes). The Houdini hippie created a live stage show in the early ’70s directed by fellow Canuck Ivan Reitman; Henning later brought the Tony-nominated show to Broadway. His magical routines soon became an annual network television event called “Doug Henning’s World of Magic.” He also created stage effects for such performers as Michael Jackson and Earth, Wind, and Fire.
But Doug never had a chance to see his biggest dream materialize. The project, called Maharishi Veda Land, was the brainchild of Henning and the founder of Transcendental Meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. A Disneyland for the spiritually attuned, the destination location was to combine theatrical illusions and technology with the teachings of sacred Hindu texts. The thought that such a place could exist and succeed sounds implausible to us. But in the words of Henning, “Anything the mind can conceive is possible. Nothing is impossible. All you have to do is look within, and you can realize your fondest dreams.”
In the mid ’90s, David Blaine looked like he was on the fast track to becoming a legendary magician. His first TV special, “David Blaine: Street Magic” was a SERIOUS mind-freak (take that Criss Angel!), and his quiet and thoughtful demeanor was often spellbinding. Then he became a stunt magician, constantly trying to one-up himself with endurance tests: being buried alive, freezing himself in a block of ice, and standing inside a plastic box on a pillar. Was this magic or a way to avoid getting a real day job?
Either way, we can pinpoint the moment when David Blaine crossed over from being cool to being odd, and it wasn’t even in his control. During Michael Jackson’s still inexplicable 2002 VMA acceptance speech for what he thought was the Artist of the Millennium Award (it was, in fact, a sparkly decoration on a birthday cake), MJ said these simple words, “David Blaine, your magic is real, and I believe in you.” Not exactly a career-building character reference.
Penn & Teller
Penn & Teller are often called the “Bad Boys of Magic.” Penn Jillette (the loud, tall, funny one) and Raymond Teller (the short, silent, creepy one) are known for their gory, macabre tricks that combine illusion, comedy, juggling, and mime with a touch of politics. They describe themselves as “a couple of eccentric guys who have learned how to do a few cool things.” Their act includes a strait-jacketed Penn hanging over a bed of spikes, Teller’s run-in with an 18-wheeler, knives going through hands, and the ultimate version of the bullet trick, in which they both simultaneously fire guns and catch each other’s bullets in their mouths.
“Penn & Teller: Bulls#*t!,” their Showtime TV series now in it’s fifth season, exposes fraud and fakes and debunks the myths from everything to New Age healing and relaxation techniques to alien abductions. Personally, we think that Penn’s best illusion was making himself disappear after week one of his stint on “Dancing with the Stars.”
You might know Harry Anderson from his days as Judge Harold Stone on “Night Court,” but he’s actually quite an accomplished magician. In fact, he got his start as a kid doing card tricks and shell games on the street and doing gigs at Hollywood’s legendary Magic Castle. That honor led to a recurring guest spot on “Saturday Night Live,” which won him the role of Harry “The Hat” Gittes on “Cheers.” From there, he went on to “Night Court,” playing the wacky judge who’s an amateur magician obsessed with Mel Torme (two character traits shared by Anderson that the creator claims were coincidental).
Then, after playing a fictionalized version of humor columnist Dave Barry on “Dave’s World,” Harry left the TV spotlight and returned to his first love: illusion. He moved to New Orleans, where he opened a curiosities shop called Sideshow and a nightclub named Oswald’s Speakeasy. Sadly, he and his family left New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Anderson still tours as a magician and regularly hosts magic conventions.
Since his first magical moment as an audience volunteer at age five, Lance Burton has been fascinated with the art of prestidigitation. His first bewitching moment in the spotlight should have been the sign that he would go on to have a career in illusion. Only one week after moving to Los Angeles, he made his first appearance on “The Tonight Show.” Magic fan Johnny Carson was so impressed with the young man’s talent, he gave him an unheard-of 12 minutes of air time. No one would have suspected then that he would grow up to be the most famous magician on the Vegas Strip. After long runs at the Folies Bergere and the Hacienda Hotel, Burton settled into his new home, signing a 13-year contract with the Monte Carlo Resort to work his magic in the Lance Burton Theater. If you find yourself in Sin City anytime soon, check out his newest illusion: the $10 million “Solid Gold Lady.”
Neil Patrick Harris
Neil Patrick Harris, an amateur magician, has said that his tricks are better suited for the talk show circuit than a club. He’s performed his sleight of hand on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” His tricks are so impressive that he managed to cast a spell on the powers that be at the Magic Castle, who invited him to sit on their board of directors — the first celebrity to be so honored since Cary Grant.
Sure, he’s hosted the Emmys and the Tonys, but more impressive to fans of illusion, he hosted the 2008 World Magic Awards. Harris, who became a self-proclaimed magic geek as a kid, admits there is a certain nerd stigma to the art, saying, “It’s the coolest hobby in the world, but people tend to get into magic because no one would talk to them.”
MTV has dubbed Criss Angel “the post-modern Houdini.” The star of the A&E series “Criss Angel Mindfreak” is a bit too pretentious for our tastes. But he has been named Magician on the Year five times in a row, the first illusionist to achieve that honor. Plus, he can levitate, walk on water, and cut himself in half. And as a self-proclaimed escapologist, he has freed himself from strait-jackets and imploding buildings and even got run over by a steamroller while laying on a bed of glass. Maybe Perez Hilton is not a fan (he tweeted during a performance of Angels’ Vegas Cirque du Soleil show, “Believe,” that he’d “rather be getting a root canal”), but his “Loyals” — the nickname of his hardcore “Mindfreak” fans — would follow him to the ends of the earth, or at least to his latest “Mindfreak: Secret Revelations” book signing.
If Ed Alonzo looks familiar and you’re not a magic fan, you must have loved “Saved by the Bell” when you were growing up. Alonzo played the owner of everyone’s favorite hangout, The Max (which was also his character’s name). After guest-starring roles on other sitcoms, he started doing a comedic magic act at the Great America theme park in Santa Clara, California. Ed’s continued to work his magic on TV and in live venues and recently designed and performed illusions in Britney Spears’ big comeback — her 2009 Circus Tour – but unfortunately he couldn’t make the lip-syncing rumors disappear. Sadly, Ed didn’t get the chance to join Michael Jackson during his planned London concert appearances, but he did witness Jackson’s final rehearsal just before the King of Pop’s untimely death.
David Copperfield did not travel far to attend 44th annual American Country Music Awards as they were held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada on April 5, 2009. He performed onstage and managed to mingle with country singer Taylor Swift too.
David Copperfield loves models and dates models literally from all over the world. He’s like the United Nations of womanizers.
Merily Jurna is a model from Estonia who is now living in New York, although it seems she’s taking a break from modeling at the moment. She was born on January 3, 1981 and is a Capricorn. Copperfield and Jurna met each other around 2002 and have been dating on and off. Rumor has it Copperfield was cheating on Merily with another girl named Sonia Uribe, whom he also dated. Below is a video found on Youtube of Jurna at a photo shoot in New York City. Sources say she’s currently studying at The New School, a university in Greenwich Village in NYC. She’s a regular in the New York social scene, however, it’s hard to find out about this woman. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.
Copperfield kicks off Oz tour
Posted Fri Aug 7, 2009 8:47am AEST
Updated Fri Aug 7, 2009 8:46am AEST
Illusionist David Copperfield has promised to make dreams come true during his first Australian tour in 10 years.
The American performer’s latest production, An Intimate Evening Of Grand Illusion, features vanishing acts, a trick involving a lethal black African scorpion and a death-defying stunt of walking through a 12-foot industrial fan.
But Copperfield says the main aim of the show is to take dreams and make them become reality using his state-of-the-art wizardry.
“It’s all about dreams, making dreams come true,” Copperfield said.
“It’s about my personal life, about my grandfather’s dreams, my dreams.
“Whether it’s showing the audience how it’s possible to win the lottery – my grandfather’s dream – or if people wish for the perfect car, the perfect motorcycle we make that happen.
“You laugh a little bit, cry a little bit and go ‘wow’ a lot.”
Copperfield also promises there will be plenty of audience participation in his shows.
“They’re all selected at random and they all become part of the show – they vanish, they disappear,” he said.
“It makes it more fun because you never know what to expect. You never get bored. You have to really be on your toes.”
It’s been a decade since Copperfield was last in Australia.
The 52-year-old says he wanted to come back sooner but bringing a show of this size across the world is no small feat.
“It takes a long time to do a big show like this and travel that far – a lot of airplanes, a lot of people and equipment,” he said.
“Last time was very complicated. But I’ve been twice, and I loved it. I’m excited.”
Copperfield performs in Brisbane, Sydney, Newcastle, Adelaide and Melbourne.
David Copperfield was born David Seth Kotkin on September 16, 1956 in Metuchen, New Jersey. He’s the best magician in the world and the richest one at that. He’s grossed over $1 billion and now owns an entire island in the Bahamas!
He’s the son of Jewish parents, Rebecca and Hyman Kotkin, who owned and operated a haberdashery (men’s outfitter) in Metuchen called Korby’s. Rebecca Kotkin was born in Jerusalem, Israel, while his paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Russia. Sadly, his father, also known as Hy Kotkin passed away on February 23, 2006 at the age of 83-years-old.
You can check out a website dedicated to David Copperfield’s dad at: http://www.rememberhy.com
David Copperfield’s mother, Rebecca Kotkin and Sonia Uribe, David’s former girlfriend
Copperfield began practicing magic at the age of 12 and became the youngest person ever admitted to the Society of American Magicians. David grew up a shy boy and saw magic as a way of being popular. By the age of 16, he was teaching magic at New York University.
He then started going to Fordham University at age 18, and was then cast in the lead role of a Chicago based musical titled The Magic Man. That’s when he adopted his stage name: David Copperfield from Charles Dicken’s novel.
Copperfield then pursued acting when Joseph Cates, a producer of Broadway shows and TV specials, contacted him. Cates produced The Magic of ABC hosted by Copperfield and The Magic of David Copperfield TV specials between 1978-1998. So far there’s been 20 Copperfield TV Specials between 1977- 2001. We’re still waiting to see if he’s going to do another one before he retires.
Copperfield then starred in the 1980 horror film Terror Train.
He made an uncredited appearance in the 1994 film Pret-a-Porter alongside his girlfriend at the time, Claudia Schiffer.
Copperfield notes that his role models were not magicians and that “My idols were Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and Orson Welles and Walt Disney … they took their individual art forms and they moved people with them … I wanted to do the same thing with magic. I wanted to take magic and make it romantic and make it sexy and make it funny and make it goofy … all the different things that a songwriter gets to express or a filmmaker gets to express ….”
MGM Grand in Las Vegas contracted David Copperfield and he’s been performing there for a long time now. He’s got a suite and I’m sure it’s very luxurious.
Copperfield owns eleven Bahamian islands called Musha Cay. Copperfield renamed it “The Islands of Copperfield Bay.” It’s a private resort, so you need a lot of money to go there. Guests have reportedly included Oprah Winfrey, John Travolta and Google co-founder Sergey Bin even got married there.
There are 40 sugar-sand beaches, 11 private islands, 700 tropical acres to explore, and 5 beachfront villas.
Copperfield has been intimately involved with some of the world’s most beautiful women. He has a reputation of being a womanizer and odd enough there have been rumors he’s gay, although the latter has been vehemently dismissed by Copperfield.
Copperfield dated German supermodel Claudia Schiffer for six years, but they broke it off in 1999 citing work schedules. There were rumors Copperfield hired Schiffer to be his “girlfriend” to gain popularity. While neither party has confirmed if this rumor is true, Copperfield and Schiffer fought back in 1997 by suing Paris Match for $30 million US dollars for claiming their relationship was a stunt and that Schiffer didn’t really like him.
In 1999, they won an undisclosed sum and a retraction from Paris Match.
Copperfield is currently under investigation by a Seattle federal grand jury since late 2007 on allegations of sexual assault. A young model claims he raped her at his island in the Bahamas. There isn’t any news on that and I still have no idea who that girl is.