Since sleight of hand magician Girolamo Scotto performed the first mentalism trick in history more than 400 years ago, mentalists around the world have been baffling audiences with their incredible mental and intuitive abilities.
Despite the fact that most modern audiences know mentalism is just an elegant performing art, there are some mentalists that are such masters of their craft it’s almost impossible to believe they don’t possess some sort of otherworldly gift.
Below, you’ll find a list of the best mentalists.
Alexander – The Man Who Knows
Performing under the stage name “Alexander – The Man Who Knows”, Claud Alexander Conlin was an American stage magician who specialized in mentalism and psychic reading acts. He was also a respected author that wrote about stage performance, psychology and spirituality (particularly the 19th-century spiritual movement known as New Thought or Higher Thought).
Performing innovative mentalism tricks that even the top practitioners of mentalism couldn’t figure out, Alexander skyrocketed in popularity in the early 1900’s. Earning millions of dollars over the course of his career, it’s believed that Alexander was quite possibly one of the most famous and highest-paid mentalists to ever live.
Born in New York City in 1892, Joseph Dunninger—better known by his stage name “The Amazing Dunninger”—is one of the top mentalists of all time. A master of various types of mentalism from mind reading to telepathy and divination, Dunninger pioneered ways for the visual art of mentalism and magic to be performed on television and the radio.
Like many other mentalists, Dunninger was an advocate for exposing fraudulent mediums and psychics, and would often use mentalism techniques to replicate their supposed “psychic powers” and discredit their claims.
Derren Brown is easily one of the most recognizable and influential magicians of all time. Since becoming a household name with his first major television special Derren Brown: Mind Control, Brown has starred in numerous other TV specials and stage shows. In 2019, he even made his long-awaited Broadway debut in New York City with his show Secret.
Brown has also authored books for magicians and mentalists such as Tricks of the Mind, as well as mainstream publications for a lay audience like Confessions of a Conjuror. He is a great performer to watch if you want to learn mentalism or magic tricks.
Beyond his stage performances, Brown works diligently to expose fake psychics, mediums and faith healers that disguise magic tricks, misdirection and psychology as true psychic powers
Easily one of the most controversial members of this list, Uri Geller is an Israeli and British mentalist that burst onto the scene in the 1970’s with appearances on national TV shows like The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson where he displayed supposedly authentic psychic powers such as his iconic spoon bending. However, it was eventually exposed that Geller was simply using basic magic tricks, misdirection and mentalism techniques to simulate psychokinesis and telepathy.
Despite the infamous start to his career, Uri Geller has since enjoyed a more than 4-decade long career as a mentalist, illusionist, magician and television personality. While another member of this list James Randi (who is a renowned skeptic and author of the book The Truth About Uri Geller) might still not be Geller’s biggest fan, Geller’s impact on the overall popularity of mentalism is undeniable.
Named by MAGIC Magazine as one of “The Most Influential Magicians of the 20th Century”, Max Maven is an American mentalist known for his intelligent and interactive mind reading tricks, as well as his excellent cold reading skills. A master showman with a one-of-a-kind style, Maven has an unrivaled ability to captivate audiences with his truly unique mental magic.
While he was born Phil Goldstein, he eventually legally changed his name to Max Maven.
Known best as the author of Practical Mental Magic, a book considered by many to be essential reading for any mentalist, Theodore Annemann was an American mentalist, magician and inventor. He has created and refined some of the most legendary mentalism tricks that are still used regularly by modern mentalists today like Colin Cloud, The Clairvoyants, The Evasons, Morgan & West and Oz Pearlman on shows like America’s Got Talent and Penn & Teller: Fool Us.
While mentalism was definitely his greatest passion, Annemann was also an accomplished stage magician who transformed the infamous and dangerous bullet catch illusion into a must-see spectacle. However, after numerous outdoor performances, Annemann unfortunately committed sucicide two weeks before the bullet catch was set to be performed on a stage indoors for the first time.
The Amazing Kreskin
The Amazing Kreskin is an American mentalist who rose to fame when his TV series The Amazing World of Kreskin which aired across the United States and Canada in the 1970’s. He was a regular guest on talk shows throughout the 80’s and 90’s, including several appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and an astounding 61 appearances on The Tonight Show. In 2009, he also became the first guest to ever appear three times on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.
While Kreskin conducted feats of mind reading, mind control and clairvoyance, he has never claimed to have real psychic powers. He is best known for allowing a member of his audience to secretly hide his paycheck for that performance somewhere in the theater. If he’s unable to determine the location of the check through various mentalism techniques, such as pulse reading, body language reading and analyzing facial cues, he will not get paid for that performance.
While he had an incredible career as a stage magician and mentalist under the stage name The Amazing Randi, James Randi is best known for his continued efforts to expose the use of pseudoscience by fake psychics and mediums like John Edwards, Sylvia Browne and, yes, even the aforementioned Uri Geller.
A scientific skeptic, Randi has dedicated the latter part of his life to debunking paranormal, occult and supernatural claims. He co-founded the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and founded the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), which is best known for it’s One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge that offers a $1,000,000 prize to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of paranormal, supernatural or psychic powers under scientific testing conditions—a feat nobody has completed.
Born Steven Shaw, English mentalist and thought-reader Banachek got his start as a teenager when he was enlisted to support James Randi’s Project Alpha experiment which secretly used mentalism tricks to debunk parapsychology research.
Now legally-named Banachek, he continues to perform regularly around the world and is currently the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation. Banachek is also the author of Psychological Subtleties, a series of books that are often touted as some of the best books for mentalists.
Richard Osterlind is considered by many to be one of the most influential mentalists and hypnotists of all-time. An accomplished creator as well, Osterlind is best known for developing mentalism effects such as the Osterlind Center Tear and helping countless mentalists learn magic through beloved series such as Mind Mysteries, Easy to Master Mental Miracles, and his video version of the iconic mentalism book 13 Steps to Mentalism.
Marc Salemn is a widely-respected mentalist, mind reader and nonverbal communicator. Earning a PhD in Developmental Psychology and working closely with Ray Birdwhistell on the study of Kinesics, a specialized subset of cold reading that focuses on body language and other nonverbal behavior, Salem is considered by many top mentalists to be one of the best cold readers in the world.
Gerry McCambridge is a world-renowned mentalist and Las Vegas mainstay. Topping 4,000 shows in April 2020, his one-man show “The Mentalist” is the longest running and most financially successful mentalism show in Las Vegas history.
The son of a New York City Detective, McCambridge became fascinated with mentalism after experiencing firsthand his dad’s ability to solve cases with his astute observation skills and ability to read body language. It’s believed that McCambridge might have even been the inspiration for the psychic detective character Patrick Jane on the CBS TV series The Mentalist because the company contacted him after becoming intrigued by the idea of merging a mentalist with a detective.
The most serious mentalists are very adamant about the fact that magic and mentalism, despite their similarities, are two totally different arts. As a result, they might be shocked to see David Blaine on this list because the world-famous magician is definitely best known for his street magic tricks, endurance performances and world records.
However, Blaine is also a master of understanding human psychology, which is one of the most important skills a mentalist can have. His first TV special Street Magic was an international phenomenon that is considered by many to have revolutionized magic and mentalism.
Blaine was the first television magician to truly understand the value of directing attention. Instead of focusing on him performing card tricks, reading minds or predicting names, he chose to have the camera focused mostly on the audience’s reactions. This gave the at-home audience a heightened experience that changed the way we watch magic on TV forever.