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Most people have an opinion about him. There are those who regard him as the greatest psychic of recent times. Others dismiss him as no more than a clever magician masquerading as a psychic. Some are so confused by the claims and counter-claims that they don’t know what to think. And that’s fine with the amiable mind-bender.
Controversy has pursued Geller throughout his career as a public performer, particularly after his sensational appearances on American and British TV shows in 1973. His charismatic personality ensured those demonstrations of mind reading and spoon bending made a huge impact on television audiences. They also brought the sceptics out in force.
“Throughout my life, it was really the sceptics who fuelled the wheel of publicity around me,” he says. “I am a great publicist, and I say that shamelessly. I never had an agent, or a manager, an image maker or a PR person working for me. It all happened because I let the controversy rage around me. To be controversial is a gift, and sceptics supplied plenty of that. Most of them probably didn’t understand the publicity value of controversy. That’s why, I guess, more than four decades later, I’m still around and still have dozens of TV shows every year.”
Those shows include his search for The Next Uri Geller (titled The Incredibles in the USA) on which he appears as a judge. This televised talent show has been highly rated in the 17 countries in which it has been made, and Geller is about to launch a new version.
Many magicians still dismiss his performances as no more than parlour tricks dressed up as paranormal powers. American magician James Randi has been one of his most vociferous critics and lawsuits have flown between them. But even Randi acknowledges Geller as an accomplished performer.
Of course, just because magicians can duplicate what Geller demonstrates does not mean his results are not paranormal. In fact, Geller has received surprising support from some of the world’s top magicians. It’s not widely known, for example, that in 2008 he received the annual David Berglas International Magic Award from The Foundation for Promoting the Art of Magic. He’s also a personal friend of Berglas, who is a former president of the Magic Circle and a magical performer with an international reputation.
“If he genuinely does what he claims to by the methods he claims to use,” Berglas has declared, “then he is the only person in the world who can do it. If, on the other hand, he is a magician or a trickster or a con-man, he is also phenomenal – the best there has ever been.”
And here’s what David Blaine, famous as a street magician and star of ABC Television Specials featuring his amazing endurance feats, has to say about Geller:
“Uri bent a spoon for me. The first time he did it, I thought there must be a trick. The second time I was stunned: completely stunned and amazed. It just bent in my hand. I’ve never seen anything like it. It takes a lot to impress me. Uri Geller is for real and anyone who doesn’t recognise that is either deluding himself, or is a very sad person.”
So it was not altogether surprising that in 2001, when Geller and his wife Hannah renewed their wedding vows at their mansion in the English village of Sonning, Berkshire, on the River Thames, the 130 guests included both Berglas and Blaine. Michael Jackson – who was 15 when he first witnessed Geller demonstrating his powers – was best man and the pop star’s unofficial spiritual advisor, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, conducted the ceremony.
“You know, most magicians think I’m a magician, but I don’t care what they think. I know what I know. And that’s why they find my storyline, my journey in life, fascinating. As a matter of fact, I’m the keynote speaker in July in Rimini, Italy, at the world’s biggest magic convention: FISM Italy 2015. It’s the 26th World Championship of Magic, which is regarded as ‘the Olympic Games of Illusionism’ and I will be talking to over 5,000 magicians.”
Geller seems as surprised as everyone else to have crept into the collective consciousness to such an extent. Take, for example, the scene in The Matrix where Keanu Reeves is taught to bend a spoon by children, or Robert de Niro’s paranormal abilities as depicted in Red Lights. Director Ken Russell’s MindBender, starring Terence Stamp, was also based on Uri’s life story.
Photo: Glyn Ridgers
But wait. Surely Geller is, for once, under-selling himself. The ability to bend metal by mind power, if not a trick, is hardly trivial. After all, scientists who have put his various abilities to the test, in carefully controlled experiments, are often at a loss to offer anything other than a paranormal interpretation for what they witnessed.
The experiments that astronaut Edgar Mitchell described to me back in the 1970s were conducted at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) by scientists Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ. Geller was one of several psychics whose abilities were then being tested at the SRI as part of the secret CIA/DIA-funded Stargate Project.
Among the experiments they conducted with Geller during a five-week period at their laboratories in late 1972 was a double-blind test in which an object or water was hidden in one of 10 aluminium cans. Neither Puthoff, Targ or – of course – Geller were in the room when the object was secreted at random, and the person who hid it had left the room when the psychic and the scientists returned.
Geller was required to identify which can contained the hidden object without touching any of them. He indicated, one at a time, which cans were empty and one of the experimenters removed them. Time and again, the only can left was the one with something inside. Eventually, Geller was able to simply walk into the room, look at the cans and identify the filled can without going through a process of elimination. His “guesses” were right every time, with odds of a trillion to one against chance.
A further set of double-blind experiments involved placing a dice in a metal box (both supplied by SRI). The box was shaken and Geller was asked to say which number on the six-sided cube would be uppermost when the box was opened. Out of 10 trials, Geller guessed the number on the dice eight times, passing on just two occasions. His eight guesses were all correct, which Puthoff and Targ calculate as one million to one against chance.
Fortunately, these and other SRI experiments were filmed and have now surfaced in various forms on YouTube (check out “Secret CIA Psychic Lab Experiments with Uri Geller”). Puthoff and Targ were also keen to witness his alleged ability to bend metal without touching it, but he failed to do so. Spoons were bent by Geller, but only when he had physical contact with them and the researchers were unable to say whether those results were due to sleight of hand and extraordinary strength in his fingers or whether there was a paranormal effect.
Another researcher who conducted tests with Geller at around the same time came up with a clever alternative way of testing Geller’s mind-over-metal talents. Eldon Byrd, a physical scientist at the Naval Surface Weapons Centre in Maryland, USA, asked the psychic to bend a thin piece of nitinol simply by gently rubbing it with his fingers. Sure enough, it developed a kink where Geller had touched it.
What was more remarkable, however, was what happened to the wire when it was then heated to around 900 °F. Nitinol is an unusual alloy which retains a memory of its manufactured shape. It can be bent and distorted but when heated it always springs back to its original profile. However, after being “Gellerised”, the nitinol first straightened and then, when it cooled, reverted to the shape that Geller had induced. He did this several times and Byrd could offer no explanation for these permanent changes in the metal alloy.
Since those heady days and the apparent scientific confirmation of his paranormal powers, Geller has made more of a name for himself as a mystifying entertainer and motivational speaker than as a laboratory guinea pig. But it has recently emerged that the early involvement of the CIA in studying his abilities has continued over the years in a more tangible way. Indeed, other intelligence agencies may also have been using his services.
The claims Geller now makes about his involvement in military intelligence over many years are even more extraordinary than those featured in fictional paranormal movies. They were first revealed in 2013 in a 90-minute BBC TV documentary, The Secret Life of Uri Geller – Psychic Spy? by Vikram Jayanti, which can be viewed for free on Geller’s website: www.urigeller.com. Also on Geller’s website is another documentary, by Simon Cowell: Uri Geller – a Life Stranger Than Fiction.
Jayanti’s film includes interviews with high-level officials as well as with Geller, who remains understandably coy about this aspect of his career. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also participated, telling of his long friendship with Geller, leaving us to speculate whether the psychic may also have been a secret weapon in the armoury of Mossad, Israel’s secret service. A book by Jonathan Margolis, The Secret Life of Uri Geller: CIA Masterspy? covers much the same ground.
We learn from these that Geller was flown to Geneva and used by the Americans to influence the head of the Russian Nuclear Arms Reduction team to sign the nuclear treaty. Geller achieved that, he says, by bombarding the Russian official telepathically. At other times he was asked to follow Russian agents in order to mentally erase data from disks or computer drives they were carrying.
On one occasion, again in Geneva, his spoon-bending talents helped persuade both the Israeli Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent organisations to join the International Red Cross – which they had refused to do until that moment because of the fighting between the two countries.
I ask the enigmatic Uri Geller if he is still actively involved in making his psychic powers available to military intelligence in order to assist in solving world problems? He fires back an instant and well-rehearsed “No comment”.
It was no more and no less than I was expecting. After four decades, Geller is still happy to keep us guessing.
Find out more about Uri at his website: www.urigeller.com