Making Memories Appear: David Copperfield’s Vegas

A Q&A with the world's most decorated magician

David Copperfield is the world’s most decorated—and recognizable—magician. He holds 11 Guinness World Records, is the first living illusionist to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, won 21 Emmy Awards and was one of only four people to win a Living Legend award from the U.S. Library of Congress (the others are Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Colin Powell). Copperfield performs 42 weeks a year in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand; his show runs there the entire month of April 2014. He owns a home in Las Vegas.

What was the first magic trick you ever performed?

I made my teacher disappear. I was very popular. But then she came back and I lost some of my street cred.

How old were you?

Seven or eight. I used to go to the library and look at the magic books. I would read the effect that the audience would see, but wouldn’t read the method, I tried to figure out my own method. I ended up inventing a lot of my own magic. I was published by age 12. Some of my creations were actually published in magic encyclopedias. I wasn’t good at anything else, but magic, for some reason, came easily.

When did you realize you could make magic a profession?

I just kept doing it, I loved it. But I looked for another way to present it. My role models weren’t other magicians, they were film directors who told stories—Walt Disney, Frank Capra, Victor Fleming. I invented the magic, I had to figure out how to make the other part work, to combine those two things together, to tell stories and move people using the thing I was good at. Really, that developed the style I’m known for.

Do you have a personal philosophy or creed you’ve followed?

We’re working on a new show right now called “Live the Impossible.” It’s about just that. I was ready to give up magic. My father left me a note—I had thrown all my stuff away because I was told my dreams were impossible. It said: "They say impossible. You live the impossible." In other words, embrace the impossible. My shows really help me a lot, the fact that my magic is a metaphor, that what you think is impossible in your own lives can be achieved. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things if they really believe in what they’re doing.

It’s really three things: passion, preparation and persistence. Being passionate about something. You want to be a writer? You have to be passionate about it. Then, preparation: studying other writers, seeing what you really love, finding your own voice and communicating through your own vision. The third thing, persistence: be ready to be persistent in what you’re doing—there’s going to be highs and lows all the time, no matter who you are.

When was the first time you ever visited Vegas?

I came here when I was 12 years old with my cousin Joel and my mom and dad. We stayed at Caesars Palace—that’s where Sinatra was. Jerry Van Dyke, Andy Griffith and Don Knotts performed at the Circus Maximus theater, then 20 years later, I was performing on that same stage, the wonderful place that is now high-roller suites at Caesars. I performed there for almost 15 years, 10 weeks a year. It was pretty cool.

What was your first impression of Vegas?

It was pretty different then. It was the end of the Rat Pack days. There was a lot more desert.

What is the most complicated illusion you have ever performed?

It used to be flying. I used to fly across the stage. Now it’s a piece with an alien. It’s still a work in progress. It includes my father, who isn’t with us any more, and an alien. It’s very, very complicated.

What are your favorite things to do in Vegas when you’re not performing?

Go to Springs Preserve. It’s a wonderful place. I love the State Museum there. I love going to the various parks. I’m so proud to be a part of the community. The whole Red Rock area is amazing. I love hiking in Red Rock, that whole area—that’s something I totally recommend, it’s beautiful.

Of course, the restaurants here are amazing. Joel Robuchon is a friend of mine—you can’t get better food than that. I also love watching the Fountains at Bellagio—they’re beautiful. I like to see a show if I can go—I’m never here when I’m not working. I love Celine Dion’s show, Shania Twain’s.