Tuesday, March 6, 2018

PETER POPOFF AND THE AMAZING RANDI

      We alluded in our article on Jordan Peterson to a Sci-Fi blog called Camestros Felapton, who is doing a more in-depth series on the same topic. Today, one of his commenters wrote this:

     "There's a guy called Peter Popoff who has TV ads hawking 'miracle spring water' that supposedly heals all ailments, brings financial windfalls, and somehow brings people the babies and houses that they wanted. He rakes in millions; and it's just water."

      That comment brought back some memories. Back around the time I started college (late 1980's), I remembered a story about this very huckster. Back then, Popoff was a very popular televangelist---that is, until he met the 'Amazing Randi'. 

       Randi was a popular stage magician even before then. As a kid, I used to watch him, but by the 1980's, he had mostly retired from doing magic shows and devoted his time and resources to exposing scammers who use their prestidigitation talents for less-than-honest purposes. And very soon, Popoff and his bogus 'faith-healing' ministry got his attention. 

       Randi sent some of his friends into Popoff's audiences. They noticed that Popoff's wife would canvas the crowd; and talked to people about their ailments. Popoff would then---claiming that his spirit-power told him---call up people with these ailments. Randi's associates noticed that Popoff was wearing something like a hearing-aid; a strange accessory for a faith healer. Randi soon deduced that that device was a radio-receiver and that Popoff's wife was wearing a hidden microphone. 

        Recall that this was in the days before communications technology had given us things like smart-phones. Randi secured a radio-detection truck (yes in those days, this type of operation took a truckload of equipment); and was able to tune on Popoff's frequency. 

         Then Randi set up the double-play. One of his old friends from his theater days---a female impersonator---went into Popoff's audience wearing 'a wire' under his female coiffre. When Popoff's wife approached him, he told her that he had cancer of the uterus! 

          The trap was set. Popoff's wife was recorded relaying the message and adding a few disparaging remarks about the woman's looks. Popoff then announced that 'the spirit' had told him that someone was suffering uterine cancer. Randi's 'woman' went forward and got Popoff's 'healing'. Then his wife caught on. She was recording as saying: "Hey that's not a woman! It's one of those guys who've been following us around! Get rid of him quick!"

         Too late. Randi's 'woman' was already on stage giving 'her' testimony and everything was down on tape...

         The female impersonator realized that it would probably be beneficial to his long-term chances of survival to make a discreet (and quick) exit. He got back to the truck, escaping with Randi and his men. 

        After Randi exposed the scam, Popoff's enterprise collapsed. He went into bankruptcy the same year. 

         Ah...the good old days. 

          Just as a disclaimer here, I am writing this story from memory as it was told to me 30 or so years ago by someone who knew someone in on Randi's operation: so if a few details are off, it is unintentional. But the story itself is a matter of public record. 

        I only wish I'd been in on this job. Not to say I didn't have a few others of my own; but that would be one to tell the grand-kids about, as they say. 


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