To unlock the key to this complex man and see further into the choices he made, you have to look back at a life rich with education and committed spiritual longing.
Doug became enthralled with magic at the young age of six. By fourteen, he was already performing on local television programs and doing private parties. Yet Doug also wanted to be a doctor, and after attending McMaster University, he enrolled in medical school. He also had been captivated by his psychology courses at McMaster, and had studied the power of perception, so he decided to wait two years before attending medical school and try his hand at magic. Using his newfound knowledge from his studies, he designed and built illusions and props that had never been seen in the world of entertainment. Doug now had a full-time magic career, and hard work was to follow. His goal of becoming a doctor had to be set aside.
Doug’s commitment to magic really paid off when he performed in Spellbound, a musical that combined an intense story line with magic. It broke all box-office ticket-sale records in Toronto, Canada. During his run with the musical, Doug captured the attention of some New York producers who offered to take his show to Broadway. It was a huge opportunity. So he reworked Spellbound and gave it a new name — The Magic Show. It became an incredible success, running for four-and-a-half years, and earning Doug a Tony Award nomination.
After the stint on Broadway, Doug was approached by NBC to perform on television in front of a live audience — his forte. In December 1975, Doug Henning’s televised special, World of Magic, captured the attention of more than 50 million viewers and won him the Christopher Award for Outstanding Achievement. One of the illusions he performed — a re-creation of Harry Houdini’s dangerous Water Torture Escape — catapulted him to stardom. NBC promptly rewarded him with a contract for multiple annual specials, and for seven years, his TV show entertained millions of viewers and resulted in seven Emmy nominations.
In 1976, Doug moved to Los Angeles, where he started his own production company, working hard on creating and building his own illusions. In 1984, he returned to Broadway with his solo show, Doug Henning and His World of Magic. All the hard work had paid off again, as Doug won the prestigious Georgie Award for Entertainer of the Year from the American Guild of Variety Artists, and Magician of the Year from the Academy of Magical Arts & Sciences.
Then suddenly, in the mid-Eighties, Doug completely vanished from the magic scene. He wanted to find out if there was another side to magic. Was there “real magic?” He went off to study with his spiritual leader, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and never returned to the stage. Many of his illusions were sold to prominent magicians, including Siegfried & Roy.
While studying with the Maharishi, Doug examined transcendental methods for levitating without resorting to any magic mechanisms. His passion to find the answers through spiritual and metaphysical techniques was the motivating force behind his leaving the world of magic. Could he discover if there was, indeed, “real magic?” Unfortunately, his search was cut short when he passed away at the young age of fifty-two.
Did Doug Henning ever find what he was looking for? If there ever was a person who could find the answer, it was Henning, and I believe he did.