Over the years, The Amazing Johnathan has proven he knows no bounds when it comes to staging practical jokes. He once convinced a fellow magician he’d been booked to speak at a funeral in Philadelphia, with the entertainer taking a cross-country flight to find the whole thing was a hoax.
He also borrowed a car owned by that figure, the late Brian Gillis, telling him he would have it washed and detailed. The magician returned it that night with a brand-new paint job.
But in the latest episode of my PodKats! podcast, A.J. was stopped from pulling the ultimate prank.
‘This is the deal: I wanted to fake my death. I met with a my management and a team of lawyers, back when I lived in L.A.,” says Johnathan, who arrived in Las Vegas in February 2001 to headline at the Golden Nugget. “Nobody has ever done that and come back, and I wanted to be the first one to do it. I wanted to disappear for five years, minimum, and then come back and show the whole process of what I had to do, as a documentary, what I had to do and how I had to deal with my bank accounts. Who did I tell, who didn’t I trust.”
A.J.’s reps and attorneys put a halt to that concept after a single meeting.
“They told me I’d be watching it in jail, if they showed it,” A.J. says. “There were so many illegal ramifications. Even the people associated with it would have gone to jail for things like tax evasion, people would sue for all kinds of reasons.”
But the idea that the veteran entertainer might fake even his own grave health diagnosis was a tense topic in Ben Berman’s “The Amazing Johnathan Documentary,” airing on Hulu. In one of the scenes near the end of the doc, Berman asks Johnathan if he had faked his diagnosis from a rare, degenerative heart condition. A.J. angrily tells the filmmaker he did not.
As Berman’s documentary reveals, Johnathan is in fact the subject of multiple documentaries. There’s the Hulu film, released in August. There is “Always Amazing,” directed by Steve Byrne and available on YouTube. The latter focuses on Joel Ozborn, a zealous young fan who winds up befriending the magician and even working as his road manager as an adult.
A.J. reasons that if you are facing the end of your life, why not consent to multiple docs?
He also reflects on the night he told the public of his diagnosis of his heart condition, known as cardiomyopathy, during an ENTSpeaks appearance at Inspire Theater in November 2014.
“It was kind of a mistake to announce it, I think,” A.J. says. “From that night forward, that’s all anybody wanted to talk about. I can understand why, but it’s been year after year of having to talk about it. I’m just sorry to everybody who had me in their dead pool and lost.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.