On March 9, 2019, the art of magic lost a legend. Sure, more people may have seen Penn & Teller or David Copperfield or Criss Angel or Lance Burton, but all of them acknowledged Johnny Thompson as a true master of the field.
I had the pleasure of knowing and spending some time with him when I was living in Las Vegas, and I certainly have my stories to share, but the following words, by people who knew him far better than I, are a perfect tribute.
Rest easy, Great. You did good work.
Ode to John Max Thompson
Even though he wasn’t our real father, he told the three of us we were his sons. Thanks to John, we were transformed from strangers into brothers.
He lived a life of real magic.
These are the facts:
John Max Thompson
Born under a porch
Dreamer of Mississippi riverboats, Derringer hats, and frock coats
A twelve-year-old card cheater
Beneficiary of Oswald the Human Ostrich
—Vhy don’t you do vhat zey all do?
—Hit ze hump on ze back!
Cantu and the serape loaded with livestock
Change of gears
Like all cats, he had nine lives.
On the road with the band, the driver Jerry Murad fell asleep at the wheel, and John woke up with his face through the windshield.
There was the time that he took a radio DJ’s advice and jumped into the back seat during a head-on collision, dodging the steering column that would have impaled him.
The time the tornado picked up his car and, like Dorothy to Oz, transferred him from one side of the highway to the other; he just kept on driving.
The time he nearly drowned in waste as a Chicago sewage worker. (No matter how bad showbiz gets, it’ll never be as bad as this day!)
Stabbed by his first wife.
Held at gunpoint by gangster Tommy Wonder, not to be confused with our Tommy Wonder.
Escaped Singapore’s death penalty by using sleight of hand to hide the goods.
Then there was that recent near-death experience—visitors from the dead, psychedelic cruising altitude, 35,000 feet.
Proud Salt & Pepper
Minority rights activist—all when it was illegal
Playboy Club stooge
—Not every mother’s son can be a boxer.
Want to hear his favorite Polish joke?
—It’s a one-liner.
—But it gets ’em every time.
—Could have been a drunk janitor that doubles as a hitman.
Entertainer to children
And drug cartels
—It happened right where you’re standing, friend! Right where you’re standing!
A floating head via Pepper’s Ghost
A white dress that’s soon red
A cellophane production
Some gum for fun
Two different shoes
And bird poo, too
Overall General Practitioner
—Hey kid, your fly is down!
—Yeah, it pays the bills.
Cup & Ball worker
—This trick’s so old, it’s older than God.
Egg Bag man
—I tease and tantalize the corners because that’s what they all do
—Can you see the snow white egg in the dark interior?
—Damn pretty stuff, isn’t it?!
—This may be the closest thing to real mind reading that you will ever see. Yeah, I said it, I’ll repeat . . .
—I begged pleaded and importuned you! . . . That’s a good word: Importuned. You can use it.
Luckiest guy ever: If he dropped a coin it’d land in his pants cuff.
Once he forgot the birds. Someone asked, “How’d you do?” He answered, “45 minutes!”
(Dai’s contemporary; Charlie’s roommate)
Apparently, he had more friends than all of us.
Look around: it’s evident.
King of the combover
—It’s not a wig. It’s a hair piece.
—What’s the difference?
—About fifteen hundred dollars.
—Stop it with that “grandfather” shit!
The Wizard of Warsaw
The Wizard of Wizards
Merlin had nothing on you
I’m just going to say it: the best in the world, the greatest of all time
—Tank you werry much!
“Johnson” to Hayes, the perfect partner in crime
She knew to keep the getaway car running
—Laughs like I never had before!
She yelled, “Mandrake!” when seas were rough. Sometimes “Johnson!” or just “You asshole!”
—Please ask my wife to swear for you. She thinks it’s a color.
“Mr. John Max Thompson” on paper
“The Great Tomsoni” on stage
He was all this but so much more.
Our gratitude is forever. Our love for you eternal. Our lives forever touched.
He was Johnny Thompson, a.k.a. The Great Tomsoni, but we just call him “Great.”
—Like the shifting sands of the Saharan Desert vanishing into the night’s trade winds, so doth the egg disappear.