Local magician, illusionist keeps busy while looking ahead

by Dan Holland

For local resident Rick Smith Jr., who performs around 700 shows per year as a world-renowned magician, illusionist and entertainer, the name of the game is all about continuing to develop new illusions, entertaining a wide variety of audiences, mentoring aspiring magicians and hosting fundraising events for local school districts.

Smith has brought his Magic Gives Back program to the Brecksville-Broadview Heights City School District and other area school districts a number of times in recent years. He developed the program as a magic show/fundraiser business pitch on ABC TV’s “Shark Tank.”

“So, instead of kids selling magazines, cookie dough and wrapping paper at schools, they can sell tickets to a Las Vegas-style production that we can bring to their school,” said Smith. “Brecksville-Broadview Heights has hosted it three times and we’ve raised over $60,000 for the local schools here in the BBH school district. This past year, we raised more than $101,000 for local schools around Northeast Ohio.”

One of his favorite illusions that he performs involves making a 22-foot helicopter appear on stage – an illusion he has included during his Magic Gives Back performances. Another favorite is recreating Harry Houdini’s famous “Metamorphosis” trick.

“Houdini made it famous for getting locked inside a substitution trunk, a packaging crate,” Smith explained. “His assistant would stand on top of the box. They would throw a sheet up in the air and, in the blink of an eye, they had switched places. We performed that at Broadview Heights Home Days. I do it at different school events and corporate events.”

Smith, who has appeared on dozens of televisions shows, came to notoriety after breaking a Guinness World Record in 2002 for throwing a playing card 216 feet, 4 inches. Shortly after breaking the record, Smith, who was an NCAA baseball pitcher at Cleveland State University from 1999-2002, began receiving a flood of show invites.

“About a week after breaking the record, I made the Associated Press, The Plain Dealer, The News-Herald, BBC Radio – it went worldwide,” he explained. “I got calls from “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Ripley’s Believe it or Not,” David Letterman and many others. That started my TV career.”

Smith played to one of his biggest-ever live crowds recently when he performed before 12,500 fans at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland on the Dude Perfect Panda-Monium Tour in July. Other performances have taken him to a wide variety of venues including shows on the Las Vegas Strip and cruise ships.

A recent corporate event for General Mills in St. Louis placed his act alongside speakers that included NFL Hall of Fame Quarterback Curt Warner and Jessica Watson; the youngest person to ever sail solo and unattended around the world. Another event included a private event for former MLB All-Star baseball player Mo Vaughn in Boca Raton, Florida.

Smith frequently performs two or three shows in a single day, which can include everything from private backyard parties to performing on some of the world’s biggest stages, he said. He will be the opening act this fall for Penn & Teller at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

His social media pages have helped him market his brand worldwide. His YouTube channel, which includes videos on his world-record setting card-throwing tricks, has had more than one billion views. His website, ricksmithjr.com, also has a link for his magic shop to aid aspiring magicians in developing their craft. He also teaches magic lessons at his warehouse in Valley View.

Smith said his interest in magic began during childhood when his father and an uncle taught him a card trick and coin trick, respectively.

“I had a couple of magician friends who would share card tricks with me here and there, but I’m self-taught,” he recalled. “I even built my own illusions when I was in high school in woodshop class. I would find plans in books and instead of building a table that the other kids were building, I was building a Harry Houdini Metamorphosis box.”

Smith, who lives in Broadview Heights with wife Tiffany and their three children, ages 3, 6 and 8, said he enjoys interacting with audience members most of all.

“I like to show them something they wouldn’t typically see and give them a sense of wonder,” he said. “It really allows someone who is older to go back to their childhood and see something where they can get lost in it for that 45-minute experience – magic you wouldn’t typically see anywhere else. I’m always changing my act, because in this area, people see me quite often. So, I’m always trying to come up with a new trick or different way of performing a trick.” ∞

Photo: Broadview Heights magician Rick Smith Jr. broke a Guinness World Record in 2002 for throwing a playing card more than 216 feet. Photo submitted.
Photo: One of Smith’s favorite illusions involves making a helicopter appear on stage during his performance. Photo submitted.

On our cover BroadView Journal (photo): Broadview Heights’ own resident illusionist Rick Smith Jr. stands before a sold-out crowd at Rocket Mortgage Field House where he performed several of his magic and card tricks before a live audience. Photo submitted.