Become a Better Magician
Join 15,000+ readers and get our weekly magic newsletter.
On Halloween in 1926, Harry Houdini took his last breath just days after rupturing his appendix. He was 52 years old. Like all things about Houdini, there’s more to the story. Read on to find out exactly how the world’s greatest escape artist died too young:
Did someone kill Houdini?
No one killed Harry Houdini, strictly speaking. But, his death was likely accelerated by someone else. On the morning of October 22nd, 1926, Houdini was in his dressing room at the Princess Theater in Montreal, Canada. J. Gordon Whitehead, a student at McGill University, approached Houdini and asked if it was true that he could withstand any blow to the stomach. Houdini said yes, but before he had time to tense his muscles, Whitehead punched him several times. It is reported that Houdini already felt unwell prior to the punch.
Houdini, always the showman, insisted on performing his next show at the Garrick Theater in Detroit, despite the pain. Doctors report that prior to his show, Houdini ran a 104-degree fever.
Nevertheless, on October 24, Houdini collapsed immediately following what would be his final performance. He was taken to a hospital, where doctors discovered that he had ruptured his appendix. However, doctors didn’t remove the appendix until October 25th. Houdini died on Halloween at Grace Hospital in Detroit of peritonitis caused by his ruptured appendix.
Was J. Gordon Whitehead punished?
Whitehead was briefly taken into custody and questioned by police, but he was eventually released and never punished for his role in Houdini’s death. While there is little doubt that Whitehead’s punch was a factor in Houdini’s death, it is not considered to be the sole cause, as appendicitis is caused by infection, not a punch to the stomach.
Who was Harry Houdini?
Harry Houdini was born in Budapest, Hungary, as Erich Weiss. While the details of his childhood are vague and disputed, it is widely accepted that he immigrated to the United States with his family in 1878, where they settled in Appleton, Wisconsin. He started taking on odd jobs and circus performing in the ensuing decade.
Did Harry Houdini drown?
No, Houdini did not drown. Despite Houdini’s many death-defying stunts, including escaping from chains underwater, hanging upside down in a straight jacket above Times Square, and being locked inside a milk can, it was a common medical issue, a ruptured appendix, that ultimately killed him.