After studying magic in his youth and performing on local television in his native Canada, Henning was awarded a $4,000 Canada Council Study Grant to pursue magic. Bypassing medical school after completing his undergraduate work, his studies brought him to Hollywood, California where he studied for three months at the Magic Castle.
The Magic Show
After borrowing $5000 from a bank, he built a series of stage illusions. And with Ivan Reitman, raised $40,000 to produce "Spellbound," a show that combined magic with a story and music that had a successful run at Toronto’s Royal Alexander Theatre.
In 1970, Henning took the show to Broadway where it was modified and renamed "The Magic Show." The successful production ran for over four years and garnered Henning a Tony Award nomination. Dressed in jeans and tye-dyed shirts and with his long hair, Henning changed the world’s image of a magician in traditional tails and top hat.
TV and Touring
In 1974, Henning produced and starred in the first of several magic specials for NBC. The show aired live in December 1975. He won an Emmy and was nominated for seven.
In 1978, Henning took his show on the road. He was the first magician to tour with an elaborate production since the 1940s. According to a Los Angeles Times obituary, Henning traveled with two tractor trailers with 15 sets, equipment for 30 illusions and a menagerie.
"...he turned a woman into a black panther, sawed two women in half and reassembled them on each other's legs, walked through a mirror, suspended his wife in midair before making her vanish and reappear in a box hanging over a stage, escaped from a chained trunk like Houdini and conjured up the Bengal tiger," said the article.
Later, Henning headlined at the Las Vegas Hilton and Sahara Tahoe. In 1980, Henning returned to Broadway and produced and starred in "Merlin."
In 1987, Henning left magic to study transcendental meditation and traveled to India to work with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the movement’s leader.
"He [Maharishi Mahesh Yogi] told me that by expanding my consciousness I could develop my full potential as a human being," Henning states in "Doug Henning and His World of Magic," a souvenir booklet from his touring show. "Supernormal abilities called 'TM-Sidhis,' such as levitation and supernormal powers of senses, could then be developed. These abilities seem impossible today only because our scientific knowledge hasn't yet been able to explore the subtle realms of the mind. What seems magical today will be commonly accepted as the science of tomorrow."
In 1989, Henning announced a theme park project with the maharishi, to be called "Maharishi Veda Land." Originally slated for India, then Niagara Falls, Ontario, according to a 1992 article in the New York Times, the park was to feature rides and attractions that reflected themes of enlightenment, knowledge and entertainment.
A building was to appear to be suspended over water and an attraction was to explore the molecular structure of a rose. The park's location was later changed to Orlando, Florida. In September 2008, the 450-acre Orlando tract for the theme park was placed on the market.
Working further for the maharishi, Henning performed sporadically in the 1980s to raise funds and sold many of his illusions to David Copperfield. More efforts, on behalf of the maharishi, had Henning run for public office in Canada and England as a member of the "Natural Law Party."
The magic community was deprived of one of its strongest advocates when Henning chose to pursue transcendental meditation. Tragically, Henning died of liver cancer in 2000. The magic community greatly misses him.