Houdini’s Death: What Really Killed the World’s Greatest Magician?

Houdini's Death

Harry Houdini’s death has sparked speculation for years. We list the facts & events leading up to Houdini’s illness & death so you can decide for yourself.

An air of mystery surrounds Houdini’s death, mostly because of the strange circumstances and events that preceeded his sudden passing.

Houdini’s death

The Hungarian magician Harry Houdini died on October 24, 1926 at the age of 52. There has always been debates and speculation as to why he died so suddenly. Crazy theories as to why he died range from being poisoned by spiritualist to being punched too hard in the abdomen from a college student. However, Houdini actually died from a ruptured appendix.

The Montreal Incident

Before his last stop in Detroit, Mich. Houdini had a stop in Montreal. Houdini had been complaining of pains in his abdomen for several days, but by this point decided against receiving medical attention. He performed as usual and it was after the show that two eye witnesses, Jacques Price and Sam Smilovitz, recall the events in Montreal and what happened leading up to Houdini’s death.

After the show in Montreal, Houdini was in his dressing room modeling for a sketch from an art student and in comes McGill University student, J. Gordon Whitehead. Now Houdini had been bragging as part of his show that he could take any punch and Whitehead had something to prove. The eyewitness account says that Houdini was in a lot of pain and discomfort before and after the show, but still acknowledges the challenge from Whitehead.

Price and Smilovtiz claim the punches came before Houdini was ready. Houdini took several punches from Whitehead but never did quit, even though it was obvious from his posture and physical stature that he was in a lot of pain.

Houdini’s Last Show

Houdini’s last stop was in Detroit, Mich., at the Garrick Theater on October 31. During his performance it was reported that he lost consciousness while on stage but was later revived to finish his performance. After he the show, he was taken to Detroit’s Grace Hospital where he was pronounced dead. He was only 52 years old.

Houdini’s Funeral

Houdini is buried in Queens, New York at the the Machpelah Cemetery. The funeral services were held on November 4, 1926, in New York. His funeral had more than 2,000 mourners in attendance. His tombstone is engraved with the Society of American Magician’s crest. Every year, the society holds a broken wand ceremony at his burial spot. The ceremony honors his memory and what he accomplished for illusionists everywhere.

Houdini’s wife, against her wishes, is buried in a grave in California. Because of her Catholic upbringing her family buried her in a Catholic cemetery instead of the Jewish one where Houdini was buried after his death.

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