Criss Angel has delighted and amazed magic fans since his ‘Mindfreak’ stage show first began in 2001. Since then he has racked up an incredible number of achievements that have today made him one of the best known magicians in the World.
Criss began his career performing live in New York City before moving on to Las Vegas, where he soon came to the attention of TV producers who took Mindfreak on to the small screen, and Criss became the high-profile illusionist loved by millions that he is today. He has broken World records, become the most prolific TV magician of all, written books and launched his own charity that is tied closely to his own personal life. Criss Angel’s achievements don’t end there, the multi-talented entertainer is also a musician and a writer, and now he has returned to his roots in live performances, so read on to discover how Criss became the master magician of the new millennium.
Criss Angel’s Early Life and Childhood
Christopher Nicholas Sarantakos was born on December 19th 1967 in Long Island, New York. John, his father was a shop and restaurant owner and the family lived in Elmont and East Meadow in Long Island during his early years. By the age of seven the joy of magic began to take a hold on Criss and by twelve he was performing his first show, for the humble fee of just ten dollars.
Criss didn’t pay too much attention to other popular magicians of the time, because he was keen to create the unique style of performance that he eventually became famous for, but he was influenced by the classic illusionists of generations past such as Harry Houdini. By the age of just fourteen Criss was already skilled enough at his magic-craft that he was regularly performing at restaurants in Long Island after school and during weekends.
Criss Angel’s first big illusion was making his mom levitate at home, and after he had graduated from highschool he decided not to go on to college, much to the disappointment of his parents. Instead he chose to go on the tour circuit, performing illusions with a variety of other acts. He improved his knowledge of many other areas of performance at the time, often studying in public libraries while on the road to study music, dance, martial arts and mysticism to give his performance a range of diverse influences to create the unique Criss Angel style.
Criss Angel’s Early Career
It wasn’t long before his determination to succeed paid off and earned him one particular well-known fan, the author Clive Barker. Criss performed in an ABC special show called ‘Secrets’ in 1994, the prime time show brought him to the attention of Barker who was so impressed that he invited Criss to work with him on his 1995 horror film ‘Lord of Illusions’. Barker later described Criss as an extraordinary performer, calling him ‘Spectacular’ and ‘The future of magic’.
In 1997 Criss starred in the TV movie ‘The Science of Magic’ and also followed another life-long dream at the same time, becoming the lead singer for the hard rock band Angel. His heavy metal influences have been strongly influential in his style of performance although he also likes to mix in synthesizer and orchestral elements to his music, as can be heard in much of the accompanying music to the Mindfreak TV series, which Criss has extensively contributed to.
In the late nineties Criss had also been performing as an illusionist in a show called ‘Criss Angel Mindfreak’, and in 2001 it was picked up by a theater promoter who moved it to Times Square, where Criss performed in over 600 shows over the next two years, often going out into the streets of New York City to astound and amaze passers-by with some street magic to promote the show. In 2002 Criss performed an endurance stunt in Times Square where he spent a full twenty four hours shackled underwater in a small water torture cell. The performance was so demanding physically that even after months of preparation Criss was taken to hospital with extreme dehydration after the event, during which he had suffered from hallucinations and bouts of near-unconsciousness.
With an ever growing profile Criss began to get more and more work offers, he starred in an ABC special tribute to his hero Harry Houdini a few months after the Water Torture stunt and the following year Criss was the main attraction of a one hour special on the SciFi channel entitled ‘Supernatural’. More TV appearances followed and in 2005 Criss was approached by the A&E Network to work on his own series.
Criss Angel and the Mindfreak TV Series
Mindfreak eventually ran for six seasons and ninety-six episodes, and its contribution to the resurgence in the popularity of magic cannot be over-stated. Criss was not only an incredible illusionist who performed a vast number of stunts that always left us all asking the same question, namely ‘How did he do that?’, but his rock-and-roll style made magic fresh again. Criss Angel had a natural wide-eyed wonder of magic that showed his childhood had been spent perfecting his art. He brought a personal touch to the show too, frequently featuring his family, his friends and even that adorable pet chimp of his. Criss Angel’s Mindfreak wasn’t just a display of incredible magic that made us doubt reality itself, but it was also sophisticated, entertaining and incredibly cool.
Mindfreak was well named, it really was a new level in illusion, the magic was often performed in public, or occasionally in crowded restaurants, but it was always Criss surrounded by a huge number of onlookers, making the viewers minds freak to an even greater degree, I can’t deny I watched many of the episodes simply unable to even begin to work out how Criss had performed a particular illusion, but I always enjoyed the show, and so did millions of others. The show ran on the A&E network until 2010, becoming the network’s highest rated show of the period during which it also received huge praise and a number of prestigious awards.
Criss, who has always been actively opposed to the practise of medium-ship also performed seances during the show, in order to teach his fans about the tricks of con-men and how they could avoid scams, as well as several illusions where he would reveal the secret in order to give viewers an illusion that they could practice at home themselves in order to amaze their friends, but of course everybody who liked magic watched Criss Angel, and there was no-one left to amaze. During the five year run of Mindfreak Criss Angel became the most featured magician in prime-time television history, and when each series was released on DVD, it never failed to rack up huge sales.
Criss Angel’s objection to self-proclaimed mediums and psychics took him into a well-publicized and heated argument during a guest appearance on the reality show ‘Phenomenon’ in 2007. Contestant Jim Callahan performed a summoning, which fellow guest Uri Geller praised. Criss however was not so impressed, he challenged Geller and Callahan to guess the contents of two envelopes he produced from a pocket, offering one million dollars for the right answer, but there were no guesses, instead Callaham stormed towards Criss, calling him an ‘ideological bigot’, and Criss reacted angrily. The show went into a break moments later as the two men were pulled apart, and Criss Angel’s genuine anger at what he saw as an unethical performance was in no doubt.
What’s Criss Angel Doing Now in 2018 – Recent Updates
Apart from Mindfreak Criss Angel has made many television guest appearances during his career on shows as diverse as The Oprah Winfrey Show and WWE Raw. His talk show appearances are numerous, with appearances on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Late Show with David Letterman, as well as many others. There have been appearances on ‘CSI :NY’, ‘Rules of Engagement’ and of course the Rock-and-roll magician has appeared at the VH1 Rock Honors awards, the MTV Video Music Awards and was hired to work on the stage-show production of Michael Jackson’s planned 2009 concerts shortly before the singers death.
Criss has won a wealth of awards and recognition for his performances too. He was the Magician of the Year in 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008 and Magician of the Century in 2010. In 2011 he won the World Magic Legacy Awards Living Legend Award and in 2017 it was announced that Criss will soon be getting his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Criss has also broken a few World records during his performing career, among them the longest period submerged beneath water, the fastest escape from a straitjacket and fastest performance of the famous ‘Metamorphosis’ illusion, at less than one second.
In 2010 Criss also broke the record for making the most people vanish simultaneously, when he performed the illusion on 100 people during his stage-show ‘BeLIEve’ at the Luxor Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
BeLIEve has been performed at the Luxor since September 2008 and is the best-selling live magic show Worldwide. The show has a ten year run and it will be performed at the venue until 2019. Despite a slightly shaky start it has since been streamlined to concentrate more on Criss Angel’s illusions and has been described as the ‘Most exciting magic show in Las Vegas’ by press and critics.
Criss Angel has always been very protective about his personal life, but in 2015 the magic superstar opened up to his fans about his personal heartache and the son that no-one knew he had.
Criss married his long-time girlfriend JoAnn Winkhart in 2002, but the marriage ended after only four years. He proposed to new partner Sandra Gonzales in September 2011 but that relationship also ended turbulently in a much publicized court case in 2015, when Sandra sued Criss in a lengthy court-case that was eventually shown to be entirely frivolous.
Stung by the criticism from the more sensationalist elements of the media after the case, Criss then kept his personal life well hidden from the press. In a radio station interview in Cleveland in Mid 2015 Criss was asked about rumors that he had become a father, but he denied it entirely, yet only weeks later he finally told his fans the truth.
In February 2014 Criss had married singer and songwriter Shaunyl Benson and the couple had a son, Johnny Crisstopher later that year. In October 2015 Criss finally told the truth via Twitter to his fans about his wife and their son, and he also revealed the personal heartbreak he was suffering. His son was suffering from a rare and particularly virulent form of cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Criss had only recently heard the news himself and was completely devastated, and the burden had finally become too much to keep to himself.
Fans rallied to support Criss and finally, in June 2016 good news arrived when Criss announced that his son was now technically in remission from the deadly illness, although he still faced chemotherapy treatments and gruelling medical treatments for some considerable time, ‘There are no guarantees’ Criss remarked, but at least the news for young Johnny was looking considerably brighter.
It was later revealed that Shaunyl Benson and Criss divorced after only one year of marriage, and Shaunyl had relocated to Australia with Johnny, although both her and Criss remain good friends and are determined to support each other during the battle to nurse their son back to a full recovery. Criss occasionally releases pictures of them together with their son and has spoken of his great joy that they can both be there to help Johnny Crisstopher make a full recovery.
In 2016 Criss, sporting the shortest haircut that any of his fans had ever seen, founded the ‘Johnny Crisstopher Children’s Charitable Foundation’ and on September 12th of that year he held a big star-studded bash to help launch and promote the charity. It was attended by many stars who were only too willing to lend a hand to the worthwhile cause, such as Mike Tyson and Cory Feldman. The charity, that has as its tagline ‘HELP – Heal Every Life Possible’ hopes to be able to eventually find a cure for all cancers that effect children.