Criss Angel knows his numbers, and good numbers they are. Spend 14 minutes on the phone with the 47-year-old magician and he’ll share a bunch: He’s performed 3,000 Vegas shows over the last seven years, bringing in $150 million in a single year to the Luxor – “according to Newsweek magazine,” he said, adding, “It’s the only magic show on that list.” ∆ While explaining some of the magic he’ll be premiering during his “MINDFREAK Live!” show on Tuesday in Shea’s Performing Arts Center – a new ripping bodies apart demonstration; close-up magic in the audience “where literally 15 inches away from the public you’ll be seeing me do some pretty crazy things with nothing more than the dexterity of my fingertips and some random objects that I apparently create miracles with” – he also drops a stat: With more than 300 million views for videos that show him doing things like walking on water, hanging from a helicopter with hooks sunk into the flesh of his shoulders, he’s the most-watched magician on television and the Web. ∆ Angel – born Christopher Sarantakos – will pull into town next week with three tractor-trailers and a crew of 40 people. He’s touring in addition to his Vegas shows and TV endeavors, all of which emanate from his 60,000-square-foot laboratory in Vegas where Angel develops new magic (sometimes spending up to 15 years on a specific project) and shoots and edits his on-screen shows. ∆ Angel will unabashedly share the stats that describe his position as one of the most noted magicians in the world and, someday, in history. But the Long Island native is a lot deeper than the data. During his recent interview with The News, Angel talked about his inspirations (his father’s fight with cancer), his challenges (time) and his ultimate motivation – inspiring others.
Question: You’ve got quite the empire. When you look back at all you’ve created, what goes through your mind?
Answer: I honestly don’t even think about it. I’m thinking about the next moment. Unfortunately I don’t take time to appreciate the moment I’m in because I’m always working. I don’t look over my shoulder at what I’ve done and live off of yesterday. I want to create new things for tomorrow. As an artist I’m very passionate about what I do. To remain relevant, to the guy that’s out there doing my art form and remain No. 1, I always have to invest and create and push myself and push the envelope. So I never think about what I did yesterday. I always think about what I’m doing tomorrow. It’s a good thing and a bad thing.
Q: How much do you enjoy the entrepreneurial side of what you do?
A: Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on what day of the week it is, it’s a very big business for me. For me, it’s about reinventing magic like Cirque du Soleil did for the circus and owning that space in the world for magic. That’s what my mission is. I plan on getting six to 10 shows out there in the next six or eight years. I hope to have a brand-new show out every nine months to a year.
Q: How vividly do you picture your goals?
A: I can see them very much like an athlete. I visualize what it’s supposed to look like so hopefully my body follows suit. Then I also visualize long-term goals. I think people’s biggest obstacle is themselves, because they give up or they quit when it becomes a little challenging or difficult. For me, that’s what I thrive on. I love that challenge and people saying, “You can’t do that,” because I want to prove that anything is possible. Not only in the world of magic, but in the world of my life.
Q: I get the sense you’re trying to do more than simply entertain people.
A: Absolutely. I want people leaving my show empowered and understanding they leave that theater with the feeling they can conquer the world, they can conquer their dreams. I’ve been so blessed. I’ve always dreamt big. Honestly, I never dreamt this big. I know what it’s like to fulfill a dream and then some. I see people that want to live a better, richer life. I don’t mean financially; I just mean the quality of life and what they see for themselves. They don’t feel they can accomplish it because it seems impossible.
With magic, which deals with the subject of taking the impossible and making it possible, I try to show people that I was just like them. I was a guy who grew up on Long Island, New York, and had a dream, and worked 18 years to become an overnight success because of the perseverance, the passion, and the stick-to-it-iveness that I had to get there.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge facing you right now?
A: Time. It’s enough time to accomplish all the things I see for myself. It’s being able to have enough time on this planet and appreciating all of the moments you have each and every day you’re on the planet and trying to make the most of it.
Q: You’ve said you draw creative inspiration from many areas. What’s something from outside of magic that has inspired you?
A: My father being diagnosed with cancer and basically being given a death sentence of, “You’re going to have X amount of weeks to live,” and my dad not accepting their reality and living for more than three years. (He was) being written in journals; they didn’t understand how my dad was living. My dad was a strong man and he believed that the body was a slave to the mind. My dad lived his days grateful for every moment, and lived it with a passion for life, a passion to see his grandchild from my brother be born, and spend as much time as he could with her.
That changed my life. I was the type of guy that would go to the doctor and get blood taken and I would pass out from the needle. My dad faced his biggest fears and overcame them and showed that the mind is so powerful, and was blown away by that.
After my father passed away at 4:35 p.m. on Feb. 12, 1998, a switch went off in me. I just decided I was going to have no fears. I was going to confront them and I was going to overcome them. That was my mission. I wake up every morning grateful for that moment, and then while in that moment, live it to its fullest. That’s why I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about yesterday, although I’m filled with memories of my father, his last days and the lessons I learned from him.