Doug Henning

Doug Henning

For centuries, magicians have been captivating audiences with the power of illusion – making objects seemingly float through the air, or appear and disappear at will. And while there have been hundreds of amazing practitioners of the art throughout history, one name stands out when it comes to the 70s and 80s. Looking like one of the most colorful and happy hippies to ever walk the earth, Doug Henning was a master of the art of magic, and his ever-present smile and enthusiasm compelled millions to tune in with amazement to his numerous television specials over the years.

Thanks to the success of Henning’s Broadway show, The Magic Show, which ran at NYC’s Cort Theater from 1974-1978, NBC approached him to do a special for television called Doug Henning’s World of Magic. Some 50-million people tuned in to the broadcast, and for the next 7 years, Henning would produce a new show each year. He would return to Broadway in 1983 to produce and star in his new show, Merlin, although the show only lasted six months.

Here are a few clips of Doug Henning showing off his considerable skills. The first is a clip from The Magic Show.

Now, the true test of any magician is their ability to perform “close-up” magic. Henning passes the test here, and solves a Rubik’s Cube remarkably fast:

Sadly, Doug Henning passed away from cancer on February 7, 2000 at the young age of 52. But while many have taken his place, none have ever had the same charm, charisma and childlike enthusiasm for magic like Henning.

Do you remember watching his television specials? Did you happen to see The Magic Show or Merlin on Broadway as a kid? Share your memories of Doug Henning with all of us at Retroland, as we remember this one-of-a-kind performer who could conjure smiles and amazement at will.

11 Responses to “Doug Henning”

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  1. nosralak says:

    I remember Doug Henning as a guest star on The Muppet Show; and my dad remarking that he hoped my older sister never came home with anyone who looked like that.
    I also just vaguely remember when I was very young and having one of my first checkups as a little girl, it might have been my very first checkup (after infancy), I remember the doc having long hair and a mustache, and now that I’ve seen the pic of Mr. Henning on the retroblog–that’s who he looked like!

  2. NostalgiaTV says:

    Dear Eric,

    I’ve not only watched Mr.Hennings Magic tv specials on

    NBC and CBS.

    I was also lucky enough to see his first Broadway musical:”The Magic Show”with my brother and his first wife.

    Which is the most entertaining and amazing combination of illusions and song and dance that I’ve ever witnessed.

    “The Magic Show”was also my introduction to another talented
    fellow..Mr.David Ogden Stiers.


    Long before he would play”Major Charles Emerson Winchester III”
    on the “Mash”TV Show.Mr.Stiers was playing a villian in this stage musical”Feldman The Great”.

    Sadly, I never did see Mr.Henning’s second and last Broadway Musical:”Merlin”..where he co starred with Ms.Chita Rivera.

    This gentleman was one of the few really talented and creative

    magicians..who could combine magic with some musical numbers…but
    overwhelm his audiences with both.

    Which some performers like Mr.Copperfield do on their magic tv

    And Mr.Henning also respected his fellow performers and his

    It’s sad that we lost this truly special entertainer all too soon

    in the winter of 2000.


    Thank God! We still have his tv specials..which will continue to

    entertain audiences for years to come.

    Thanks For Remembering:Mr.Doug Henning,

    Kevin S.Butler Formerley”Nostalgia TV!”.

    P.S.Doug Henning made his first tv appearance on an episode of

    “To Tell The Truth!”(The Gary Moore syndicated version)

  3. ARNIE says:

    If memory serves well, The Magic Show was your request for maybe your 10th birthday present?

  4. Kim says:

    Okay, point one: I love your dad. Ha!

    Anyway. I remember watching a Doug Henning performance on t.v. with MY dad, where he did the famous Houdini-esque “chained up in the water tank” trick. The seconds ticked by! He was under too long! Something had gone wrong! and they shouted for someone to break the tank, break it! A dude ran out from the wings, with an executioner’s hood and…axe, or something (so scary!)…but then whipped off his hood to reveal himself as Doug Henning, ta daa! I was petrified and mightily impressed, all at the same time.

    Also I used to get him confused with Gallagher. Heh.

  5. jennifer harris says:

    I remember him on The Muppet show!

  6. Caroline says:

    My dads hobby is magic. One of my fondest memories is sitting in his lap as a little girl watching the Doug winning specials (including the muppets) and to this day, he is still our favorite and the most endearing magician there ever was. I am in instant search f the entire 1982 episode with Ann Gillian and Bruce Jenner

  7. Caroline says:

    I meant henning ( damn autocorrect)

  8. If you are seeking information about Doug Henning, there is a very good biography of his life written by John Harrison called “Spellbound, The Wonder-Filled Life of Doug Henning”.

    It carries the Copyright date of 2009. I was interviewed extensively for the book because I was a close friend of Doug’s. In the index of the book it lists the 18 different places in the book where I am mentioned.

    Doug and I met at an annual magician’s convention held in my home state of Michigan. I visited with Doug and was a guest in his home in Toronto many times, and he likewise visited with me at my home in Ann Arbor. I traveled to NYC for both of the “opening’s” of The Magic Show.” ( There is an actual first night when an audience is first let in to see the show, and a week or so later there is an “official” opening night where all of the theatre critics are invited to see the show and write up their reviews for the newspapers.)

    I am a columnist for the Society of American Magician’s monthly magazine and have written several articles about Doug. I will be doing one final article about Doug which will appear in the December, 2012 issue of that magazine.

    Many of your readers will likely know that Doug was deeply involved with Transcendental Meditation for much of his life, and ultimately gave up his magic career to be able to devout his life to the TM movement. I’ll share with you how he first got involved with TM. Doug had a trick in his act from very early in his career which required some about 10 minutes of private preparation time. It was the sort of thing he wanted to do himself and not delegate to an assistant. He would put a sign on the door of his dressing room reading “Do Not Disturb – I’m meditating.” And he would tell the backstage personnel that he had to meditate for 10 or 20 minutes before each show. In fact he would be in his dressing room setting up the trick. When people started to ask him details about meditation he went out to find some information about it, and came across the TM organization of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Eventually he attended one of their training sessions in Switzerland.

    Denny Loomis

  9. i remember seeing doug henning, and thought he was a unique magician.

  10. Jim Connor says:

    Doug made magic live. Today we got guys like Kris Angel and before him David Copperfield. None of these guys could entertain like Doug. He had a trick no one has equaled – whenever I saw him he transformed this old geezer into a 10 year old boy for a few minutes…

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