The words that may have contributed to Houdini’s death

December 30, 2017

Seeing how we’re so close to Halloween and the 91st anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death, it’s a good time to ponder the theory that a clause in the performer’s contract with a theater put in motion the events that led to his demise. 

Quick review of what exactly happened back in 1926: Houdini was suffering from abdominal pain for several days while on tour, and was advised to have surgery immediately, but refused. He arrived for his performance at the Garrick Theater in Detroit with a temperature of 104, but did the show anyway. He was later taken to Grace Hospital, where he eventually died on October 31st from peritonitis, a result of his ruptured appendix. 

So what does a contract have to do with any of that? Well, according to The Houdini Correspondence File by Wayne Wissner, it’s possible that Houdini went on stage despite being sick in order to avoid paying a hefty fine. A clause in his contract stipulated that if an illness or accident rendered Houdini unable to perform, he’d have to pay $1000 (roughly the equivalent of $13,000 today) for every day the theater was dark. 

Houdini was furious to discover this stipulation in his existing contracts, and wrote to his manager: 

“I am amazed any sensible manager would sign a contract with such a clause in it and I am perfectly willing to leave the road before I would take such a chance. […] Am perfectly willing to continue if a new clause is inserted but under the present contract I retire gracefully.”

Assuming that his contracts covered his appearance at the Garrick, it’s possible that Houdini tried to make it through his scheduled performances in order to avoid the financial penalty, hoping to seek medical attention afterwards. There’s currently no evidence that his contract was amended, so it’s a reasonable conclusion to reach. 

via Wild About Harry