Houdini died on Halloween, 1926 from peritonitis caused by a ruptured appendix. For years, it has been assumed that a blow to his abdomen from an overzealous college student killed him. Houdini was known for his tremendous physical condition, and could withstand blows to the abdomen by tensing his muscles. While performing in Canada, however, he was challenged by a student who didn't give him time to prepare for the punch. Whether or not the blow ruptured his appendix, it did not cause the appendicitis, which is a bacterial infection. Houdini met his untimely death on October 31, 1926, at Grace Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. (The most common misinformation about his death resulted from the 1953 Houdini movie starring Tony Curtis, in which Houdini dies during an underwater escape.)
Before he died, Houdini instructed his brother Theo to burn his magic apparatus and collection of papers and other materials. (Theo was also a vaudeville performer and escape artist who used the stage name "Hardeen.") Instead, Theo kept them, and passed them on to his protégé, Sidney Radner. After storing the materials for 40 years in the basement of his home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Sidney Radner placed them in the care of the Houdini Historical Centre in 1988. The HHC's Houdini! Exhibit opened on April 6, 1989.
Houdini is buried in Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York.
Although Houdini claimed to have been born on April 6, 1874 in Appleton, Wisconsin, he actually was born on March 24, 1874 in Budapest, Hungary. Recently discovered ship's logs indicate that the Weiss family moved to Appleton when Houdini was a toddler. The family came to America because of a job opportunity for Houdini's father, Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weiss, who became Appleton's first rabbi. While Houdini wasn't born in Appleton, he fondly referred to it as his hometown. Buster Keaton claimed that Houdini coined his nickname. After seeing some of Keaton's work falling down a staircase, Houdini called him "a real buster," and the name stuck.
Houdini's real name was Ehrich Weiss. He changed it to Houdini as a tribute to French illusionist Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, adding an "I" to his idol's name.
In addition to his well-publicized career as a magician and escape artist, Houdini also pursued a number of unusual hobbies. Among them were: Aviation - Houdini completed the first manned flight on the continent of Australia. Film - Houdini served as a writer, producer, or actor in a number of movies during the birth of the moving picture. Among the movies he appeared in were Terror Island, The Grim Game, and The Man from Beyond.
Houdini was known as a debunker of fake mediums and spiritualists. His interest began during his bereavement after the death of his mother, Cecilia Weiss. Because of his background as an illusionist, he recognized the techniques of mediums that claimed to have contacted the spirit world. Houdini became a crusader against these charlatans who bilked grieving families of their money. He frequently attended séances in disguise in order to expose the mediums.
Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the famous Sherlock Holmes character, was a contemporary and admirer of Houdini's. Ironically, Doyle was known for the logical explanations in the Holmes stories, yet he truly believed that Houdini's escapes and illusions were supernatural phenomena.
The Official Houdini Séance, held each year since the magician's death in 1926, originated from Houdini's efforts to expose fraudulent mediums. He claimed that if there were truly a way to contact the living after one's death, he would do so. He set up a code with his wife Bess, who faithfully attended the annual séances and awaited his return for 10 years, after which time she gave up. The séance, currently organized by Sidney H. Radner, is held each year in a location with a significant connection to Houdini's life. So How Do You think He Died My Friends?