Durante uno spettacolo il prestigiatore e comico Amazing Johnathan ha sconvolto il pubblico annunciando la sua morte.
The Amazing Johnathan is the last in line on this night after a series of five speakers at Inspire Theater on Fremont East in downtown Las Vegas. Before him, we have been regaled in tales from such legends as Mary Wilson of The Supremes and comic genius Marty Allen.
A genuine showgirl and two-time cancer survivor, Shellee Renee, has appeared on the same stage as an Olympic athlete and Cirque artist, Christina Jones of “O.” Jeff Kutash has talked of his brief period as “Mr. Disco” with the dance revue Dancin’ Machine, which helped vault him to become one of the city’s top producers with the long-running “Splash” at the Riviera. This is all part of the premiere night of what, hopefully, will be a series of such monologues, “ENTSpeaks,” a production of Emmy Award-winning set designer Andy Walmsley.
At the end, it’s the comic magician of whom his contemporaries say is one of the great stage performers of his era. Comic Louie Anderson said that just before the show as he hung around the VIP suite with the night’s speakers. But The Amazing Johnathan, or A.J., as he is commonly known, is not right on this night. He is weak and has trouble walking over any considerable distance. His wife, performance artist Anastasia Synn, has had to sometimes carry him, actually on her back, when his legs fail.
Johnathan is seated onstage, seemingly revived by the lights and exuberant crowd in the 200-seat theater. There will be no illusions from the comic magician, but there will be laughs. He talks of his formative years as an entertainer, growing from a school kid who convinced his parents and teachers that he could really bend spoons, to a street performer (toggling space with such great close-up artists as Harry Anderson) and club comic in San Francisco. “Robin Williams and Dana Carvey, they were friends of mine,” he tells the audience.
A move to Los Angeles and his bitingly funny stage show quickly led to appearances on “Late Night With David Letterman” and specials on HBO and Comedy Central. “I was going to be on a new show that was going to be better than (Johnny) Carson, that was ‘Thicke of the Night.’ I might have jumped on the wrong bandwagon there,” he says, as those who remember Alan Thicke’s doomed late-night talk show laugh.
Johnathan even hosted a game show broadcast from Atlantic City, a Merv Griffin vehicle called “Ruckus,” in the early 1990s. He performed for two presidents, and says, “I did one for Reagan while I was stoned on ecstasy,” he says, nonchalantly, as if reciting rather than confessing. “I don’t know why, but I figured this might be the right place to try ecstasy for the first time. The Secret Service was looking at me like, ‘Oh, man …’ they all knew. They all knew I was doing this (stuff).”
Johnathan reminds of his great success in Las Vegas, highlighted by a 13-year run at Golden Nugget, a gig he resisted initially. “When they said Golden Nugget, I was like, ‘Eeeeh, really?’ But I sold out every night for two years, 500 seats a night. Every single night.”
And over the years, he says, “The greatest time of my life was spent here. I made millions of dollars, I have two beautiful houses, and everything came crashing … ”
And swiftly, the air seems to leave the room. There is a long pause, timed at seven seconds but seeming an eternity.
The great entertainer then says: “Down.”
And adds, “And I was told I have a year to live.”
The audience is unsure how to react. A.J. is known to be one of the great pranksters among entertainers, in Las Vegas or anywhere. Is this real? There is a laugh from the crowd.
“It’s not a joke,” he says.