Celebrating the life of Johnny Thompson.

On March 9th there was an emotional Celebration Of Life for the great Johnny Thompson in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event was beautifully planned and executed; it was apparent that the celebration was masterminded and co-ordinated with loving care by Penn & Teller and Emily Jillette. The Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio Hotel housed the event, and it felt so incredibly correct to gather in a packed, vibrant, and enthusiastic showroom, for our last goodbyes to a great showman. It is easy to be sidetracked by Thompson’s expansive knowledge and “gun for hire” expertise, but his performance skills place him high in the pantheon of magic’s greatest heroes. Johnny and Pam were always scintillating performers in the top league of magical powerhouses.

The rather old fashioned term of “people coming to pay respect” was the exact mood of the group attending the Celebration. There was plenty of love, and friendship in the Theater on the 9th. There were laughter and more than a few tears going on in Vegas, and there was a great deal of respect too. In honesty, I am not one much given to attending Celebration of Life events, but I wanted to be there for this one, and I was proud to represent Vanish Magazine. The only similar Celebration event I attended in Las Vegas was at the memorial for Channing Pollack, and on that occasion, I sat with Johnny Thompson! A photographer and video photographer were present throughout the event, and I understand an official video presentation will eventually available at http://www.tomosoni.co 

Everyone attending the Celebration seemed to have decided to keep the taking of personal photos and videos to a minimum, and for me, this was very welcome. I certainly didn’t take any notes, so, therefore, I am just going to give a very personal and partial recollection of my highlights from the evening.

A diverse and distinguished group of magicians and magic lovers were waiting at the doors of the Penn & Teller Theater when they opened at 4:00 pm. Waiting inside was an elegant dessert and beverage buffet, and even better a large area for the group to mix, mingle and say hi to old friends. Inside the theater was a multimedia presentation of personal photographs that Emily Gillette had collected and assembled. I loved the slideshow. By 5:00 most of the guests had gathered in the showroom. Just as a personal guess I would say about 600 people or so were seated in the theatre for the live presentation. David Copperfield very graciously began the Celebration and set the perfect hosting tone. Matt Franco assumed an MC like role, and he did an excellent job of tying everything together.

From 5:00 – 7:00 pm The Penn & Teller Theater was alive and blazing with stories and memories. The “kick-off” to the Celebration was the big screen presentation of the classic Tomsoni & Co. act. The crowd adored this footage, and it was a perfect start to the event. As the Celebration continued there were many fine speakers who’s personal anecdotes resounded strongly with the crowd. It was impressive seeing everyone express their powerful emotion, and there was not a single jarring note in the mix. I was particularly impressed by the thoughtful statements made by Mike Caveney and Jeff McBride. An excellent presentation by Jared Kopf, Alpen Nacar, and Paul Vigil was another real highlight

Everything went very smoothly, and the event was everything one could ever have hoped for it to be. For two hours the speakers were all on target with their tributes and stories, and there was a very inclusive guest list of both live and videotaped remembrances to regale the assembled crowd. Amongst other speakers were, The Amazing Randi, Erika Larson. Fielding West, Jamy Ian Smith, Lance Burton, Teller, Alan Bursky, David Magee, and an almost incoherent with tears Penn Jillette were just part of the team who gave eloquent tributes to Mr. Thompson. As you can imagine there was a series of social gatherings after the formal event took place as people gathered to talk. Just as many Johnny Thompson stories were exchanged during this time as had been shared onstage earlier. It was an evening of exceptional magical companionship eventually turning into a beautiful party that I feel Johnny himself would have much enjoyed.

Later that night on the 9th I was lucky enough to be invited on a personal tour of David Copperfield’s amazing magic museum. The tour is conducted tag-team style by David and Chris Kenner and is a delightful journey through magical worlds that they have lovingly re-created into existence. The attention to detail and David and Chris’ careful narration is an awesome experience. One of my seven compadres on the extensive tour was Jamy Ian Swiss, and I spent some time feeling grateful that before Johnny left us, he had found his perfect scribe in Jamy. The publication of Thomson and Swiss’ magnum opus “The Magic of Johnny Thompson” allowed a considerable part of Thompson’s heritage to be preserved intact for future generations to explore. By the time I got to sleep that night, at about 3:45 AM, I realized that tragic as it is when we lose a magical giant like Johnny, it is reassuring to know we have magic collectors, historians, writers and re-constructionists such as Jamy, David & Chris, dedicated to preserving key achievements of our craft for future minds to study. Thanks, guys.

~ by Nick Lewin on May 10, 2019.

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