While I was away in Spain I heard that Jim Cellini had passed away. People closer to him than I was will write at length I’m sure about the man and his life, that’s how it should be, and of course my thoughts are with his family.
I first heard of Jim through Jerry Sadowitz’s “Crimp” magazine, and then after talking to a number of long standing Covent Garden performers I realised that I had to meet this guy. Jim had a huge influence on my life even though I only met him a few times, and for a number of years before we met I tried to track him down as he traveled through Europe. On more than one occasion I would arrive at a pitch to be told he had been there the week before but had moved on. Eventually I met Jim at FISM in Dresden. I had heard he was lecturing so took a detour from Prague and worked the street outside the convention as I couldn’t afford the fee to get in. It was a great experience, a number of top names stopped to watch the show, Jay Marshall stayed on and was gracious enough to thank me for doing a good job and one kind soul dropped a FISM pass into the hat.
Even now the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as I think about the excitement I felt as I walked into the bar of the convention looking for the man I had wanted to meet for so long. He was surrounded by “real” magicians and to be honest looked a bit bewildered by the fuss they were making about him. I managed to press myself to the front of the small crowd and extended my hand to him, “Hi Jim, I just wanted to say hello..”, before I had finished my sentence he said ” Are you the guy who’s been working the street? Sit down.” He shifted along to make room for me to sit and I sat there, a fellow street performer, kindred spirits, acknowledged by the best in the world! It doesn’t get any better than that.
It wasn’t until I went to the large festival held by the lake in Zurich that I really got to know Cellini. Almost every night for two weeks I would sit with him and talk magic, street performing and life. He gave me some great advice and was always happy to share memories and stories. I learnt the Slydini silks from Jim, I already knew how to do the trick, but like I say I LEARNT the effect from him. It was during those 2 weeks that I changed my whole outlook on magic and street performing and that was due to Cellini. He wasn’t performing at the festival himself but instead he sat and held court in one of the most beautiful settings I have worked in, absorbing the energy of the festival and reflecting it back in his own way. One particular evening as we sat drinking a beer Jim was approached by some locals who clearly knew him by reputation and they asked if he would show them a trick – Jim obliged by performing the Slydini one coin routine and to this day it remains in my memory as the most magical presentation of any trick that I have seen. His whole physicality changed and he exuded the strength and confidence that only comes from years of performing, the moves were fluid and the effect crystal clear. Set against the backdrop of the lake on a beautiful summers evening it was pure magic. I stand corrected – it doesn’t get any better than that.
The following year I repeated my visit to Zurich with my old street performing friend Gary Animal and this time Gazzo was there. I hadn’t met Gazzo before but he knew that I had been doing the Cups based heavily on his routine so what could have been an awkward moment was eased by the fact that Jim had told Gazzo that I was one of the good guys and not just a copycat. I still kick myself that I have no photo’s from my time in Zurich and that year what a photo it would have been, however I wasn’t there to make memories I was a street performer, with other street performers and we were just living the life. It doesn’t get any better than that.
I also have Jim to thank for introducing me to some of the best magicians in the UK. He was at the International convention and again I came into the bar, as an outsider, to see Jim sitting with some of the best magicians in Britain. These were guys that I had always wanted to be “in with”, and it I can’t help smiling when I think of how Jim called me over to sit with them while they looked on thinking “who the f**k is this guy.” Thanks Jim, they don’t come any better than you.
So, Jim Cellini, I tip my hat to you and wish you well on your new journey. Although we never worked on the same sidewalk together your influence is in every performance I give. Thank you for everything and you will be missed.