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Master of illusion 

& & by Marty Demarest & & & &

Think fast: Name five famous magicians. Chances are, unless you're a devoted follower of magic, you'll have a hard time getting past Harry Houdini and maybe Doug Henning. One name likely to be on your list, however, regardless of how interested you are in illusion, is David Copperfield. And it's no accident. With numerous television specials and world tours in his past, Copperfield's been seen by more people -- an estimated three billion -- than any other magician in history. Tonight, he'll be increasing those numbers in Pullman, when his latest show "Unknown Dimension" stops at the Beasley Coliseum for two performances. He'll also visit the Spokane Opera House Monday night for two shows.

All of the exposure has transformed Copperfield from a mere stage magician into a celebrity -- an icon of pop culture (helped somewhat by his highly publicized marriage and divorce to supermodel Claudia Schiffer). His face has found its way to the covers of Esquire magazine and Vanity Fair, and he has been given his own star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame. Most interestingly, perhaps, was his appearance in the 1980 horror film Terror Train with Jamie Lee Curtis.

But the road to becoming the pop superstar of magic was not necessarily an obvious career choice for David Seth Kotkin (Copperfield's birth name). "I don't know if you ever decide to become a celebrity, and I don't know what that is really," Copperfield says. "I think the more people that can see your work at the same time, the more people you're communicating to. It was never a conscious decision to say, 'I want to be famous when I grow up.' In fact, it really wasn't an option when I was starting. There were no famous magicians at that point."

It seems fated, however, that he would go on to take magic to new heights. While teaching a course in magic at New York University when he was 16, Copperfield was cast as the lead in the stage show The Magic Man, and launched a career that combined the art of magic with all of the slickness that the theater could offer.

At first, his illusions were impressive -- making a Ferrari disappear, and vanishing an airplane -- but they quickly became elaborate productions, complete with music and choreography. By the time he walked through the Great Wall of China and "escaped" from the Bermuda Triangle, his illusions were outgrowing the stage. How believable, after all, is television?

"That's why you have to have a live audience there when you do it," Copperfield explains. "That's why I do so many shows -- because I do exactly on my live tours what I do on TV. So people can come and see it for real themselves -- and see if I'm full of it when I say that it's really happening."

One of Copperfield's most notable achievements in the realm of magic has been his illusion "Flying," in which he soars above the stage and auditorium. "I do it because it was my dream, and I was motivated to do magic that wasn't really based in fooling people, but based on real-life and dreams that I had and hopefully other people had, too. In fact, in this live show now, what we're doing is totally based on the dream that most people have when they close their eyes and try to imagine themselves in a better place. A perfect place."

In "Unknown Dimension," Copperfield vanishes from the auditorium, and appears via satellite elsewhere. And since this is a David Copperfield illusion, that other location tends to be extreme, like on the other side of the earth. "We have a crew on a beach in Indonesia -- a place where it's daytime while the shows are taking place at night. And that's important because we see the people on the beach. All through the show, the people on the beach talk to the audience live in the theater, and we interact with them all throughout the show. And when the moment of truth comes, I take some proof from the audience -- some photographs, some artifacts and I have people sign my skin. And I travel in a few seconds literally halfway around the world to that beach in Indonesia, and you see me there with the proof."

So if dreams are behind Copperfield's intricate and enchanting illusions, what motivates his constant touring? He's certainly had no shortage of success. According to Forbes magazine, he is the world's 30th highest paid entertainer. The secret may lie, according to Copperfield, with Terror Train, and a long-term vanishing act. "Jamie's great; I think the movie's pretty good; I think I pretty much suck in it. And the reason I do so many shows a year, is that every city I go in, I go to the video store, and I rent their copy of Terror Train. And I don't return it. And I've calculated that if I keep doing shows and not returning those videotapes, I will have eliminated all copies of my bad performance from the world."

& & & lt;i & David Copperfield performs at the Opera House on Monday, Dec. 18, at 6 and 9 pm. Tickets: $29.50-$42.50. He also performs at the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum in Pullman on Thursday, Dec. 14, at 6 and 9 pm. Tickets: $29.50-$39.50. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

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