James Randi began his career as an illusionist, escapologist, and a stage magician. He achieved a level of popularity under his stage name “The Amazing Randi”. In 1956, he remained in a sealed metal coffin that had been submerged in a swimming pool, for 104 minutes.
With this, he broke Harry Houdini’s record of 93 minutes and won universal acclaim in the world of stage magic. Unlike many stage magicians of the time, Randi never claimed to possess any supernatural powers. He insisted that stage magic is nothing but a highly elaborate and well-trained illusion and that all who claim otherwise are either liars or delusional.
In the late 1960s, Randi hosted his own radio show on the New York radio station WOR. As a part of the show, he invited guests who defended paranormal claims and started offering a $1000 prize and later, a $10,000 prize, to anyone who could prove their paranormal abilities beyond any doubt. Randi entered the international spotlight in 1972 when he publicly challenged the paranormal claims of the absurdly popular Uri Geller. Geller sued Randi for the sum $15,000,000 but the lawsuit was subsequently terminated. Geller continued to appear across the world and is still one of the most influential alleged psychics.
Randi’s skepticism led to the founding of the “Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.” Renowned scientists and thinkers such as Paul Kurtz, Isaac Asimov, and Carl Sagan joined Randi in this cause.
Their goal was to thoroughly investigate paranormal claims across the world and debunk false ones. As it turns out, most of the reported claims never needed extensive investigations, as they were immediately recognized as hoaxes.
In 1996, one of Randi’s friends, the Internet pioneer Rick Adams, donated a million dollars to the prize Randi was offering to the person who manages to prove their paranormal abilities, and the award was officially renamed the “One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge.”The James Randi Educational Foundation created a set of strict rules under which applicants were to be examined, to deter potential money seekers.
A number of people were examined, but nobody ever managed to prove possession of paranormal abilities beyond any doubt. On April 1st, 2008, Randi claimed to have given the prize to the magician Seth Raphael after extensive testing at the MIT Media Lab, but it was later revealed that Randi only pulled an elaborate April Fools prank.
The challenge was open for many years, but it was officially terminated in 2015 when Randi announced that he was officially retiring.
The money was transferred into other interests of Randi’s foundation, but a special committee still exists to investigate claims of paranormal powers.