When Criss Angel created "MINDFREAK" for A&E in 2005, it redefined the modern magic show, and became the most successful magic show in television history; it continues to be viewed regularly by more than 100 million viewers per season in more than 90 countries. In 2008, Angel partnered with Cirque du Soleil to create and star in the thrilling BeLIEve at Luxor, which went on to garner another accolade: it has been the best-selling live magic show in the world since it opened. He spoke to Where Las Vegas about his success, living in Las Vegas and what drew him to become a magician.
What first drew you to magic?
I remember after learning my first trick, that I felt this incredible sense of power that an adult didn't understand how it worked, but I did. I practiced magic tricks obsessively from that point and did my first magic show at age 12, at a neighbor's birthday party—I made $10!
What was the first trick you ever performed?
My Aunt Stella taught me my first card trick when I was 6 years old. From then on, I was hooked! My first audience was my family in Long Island. My first "assistant" was my mother, whom I levitated on a broom in our living room.
When did you realize that magic was something you could make a profession out of?
After I graduated from high school. I decided—crazy as it sounded—to skip college and pursue a full-time career in magic. My parents were NOT happy about that. The thought of my becoming a professional magician was unbearable for them. They had hoped their three sons would go to college and become doctors or lawyers—but not a magician! I basically just hit the road and began touring with other traveling performance acts. Between traveling and performing, I worked to expand my knowledge on my own by studying the history of magic in public libraries. I studied the arts of mysticism, music, martial arts and even dance. It was a practical education, not a formal one.
What’s the most complicated illusion you’ve ever performed?
I’ve done a lot of really tough illusions over the course of 116 episodes of television and more than 2,300 live performances, but probably the most difficult thing that I dealt with was when I hung by four fish hooks, from my flesh, from a helicopter 1,000 feet over the Valley of the Fire, which wasn’t a trick. It was incredibly beautiful and painful.
When did you first come up with the concept for "MINDFREAK?"
I had been thinking for years about what I could do on television differently than what other magicians had in the past. I finally got the opportunity with A&E in 2005. I’m incredibly proud and grateful to have gotten the chance to create the most successful magic show in television history. I always say it took me 18 years to become an overnight success. Some demonstrations are harder to create and produce than others…I have one I’ve been working on for my live show for more than 15 years! I am thankful every day for how blessed I have been.
Your fans are called Loyals. Please talk about what they mean to you.
My fans are the most incredible and supportive people! Without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Do you have a personal philosophy or creed you’ve followed through the years?
I take a lot of inspiration and philosophy from my father. My father wound up being my biggest supporter, even when no one else thought I’d make anything of myself. During his life, he showed me how powerful one can be when the mind, body and spirit work harmoniously. By facing your fears, and believing in yourself, truly anything is possible. I’m living proof of that.
When was the first time you came to Vegas? What was your impression of Vegas beforehand, and did it change at all once you were here?
Vegas has changed a lot, even from when we first started filming "MINDFREAK" back in the early 2000s. You see hotels, nightclubs, shows come and go like clockwork. It’s all about the current demographic of people who are coming to Vegas. Right now, it’s very youthful… kids in their early 20s who want to party. They watched "MINDFREAK" in high school; it’s amazing to continue filling the showroom with fresh faces.
How has it been to work with Cirque du Soleil?
I consider myself lucky to be partners with a world-class organization like Cirque du Soleil. Guy Laliberte and his entire team are a creative marvel. Cirque and I take it very seriously—with the economy the way it is, and people coming to Vegas and only seeing one show, I want to make sure I deliver 110 percent every time. I want people to leave BeLIEve and tell their friends—and come back themselves. We’ve had people that have seen the show 70 or 80 times. It’s a personal goal of mine to keep it fresh, to keep pushing the boundaries of the art of magic and pushing myself.
I’m my own toughest critic, and Cirque provides an environment where I can continue to challenge myself. There are more than 40 illusions in the show—more than any other Las Vegas magic show, and it all centers around giving people an experience that is unlike any other—to revolutionize magic. I really attribute our success to the hard work of this amazing team and partnership. It takes an army to win a war, not just one person—and I have the best army in the world.
What do you like the best about living and performing in Las Vegas?
It’s amazing to be able to wake up in my own home and drive down to my 60,000-square-foot complex where I work during the day on new projects and illusions, and then go straight over to the Luxor where I do my two shows every night. I love having everything I need to create right at my fingertips, and it really helps to have it all so close together.
Do you have any pre- or post-show routines you follow?
I try to get in a workout every day, because this career is really physical (most people wouldn’t realize). Before each show I stretch and just focus on giving the audience the best show possible. After shows I eat, catch up on work emails and try to get at least a little sleep. (Laughs) I don’t sleep much at night!
If you had one day free to do whatever you wanted to in Vegas, what would you do?
Free days?! What are those? I don’t have much time off… I spend most days working on BeLIEve, or new TV projects, or my upcoming touring show. But when I do, I really just like to take it easy and relax with my “kids,” my two rescued German shepherds, poodle-Pomeranian mix and mini Yorkshire Terrier.
What restaurants and nightclubs do you recommend?
In Vegas summers, do you prefer to be indoors or outdoors?
It depends on what I’m filming! When I shot the Bullet Catch, it was 115 degrees outside; my cameraman even passed out. So on days like that, it’d be nice to be inside. But I wouldn’t change what I do for anything.