24 March 2023

Canada's Got Talent: Getting to know Dean Gunnarson

Next in the the series of Canada's Got Talent contestants is Onanole's Dean Gunnarson!


Who inspires you that is not an escape artist?
Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys has been a long-time friend and supporter. I have performed many shows for him over the years, and I admire his determination and willingness to take risks. Much like an escape artist.  I know there are people that don’t agree with him, but he will risk it all on what he believes is right for his team. I feel as an escape artist to have had to make many similar decisions.
What is your first memory of escapology?  How old were you?

When I was 10 years old and, in the 5th, grade my Mom bought me a book on Houdini. I was growing up in Texas at that time and everything was big there like Houdini was in my young eyes.  I read the stories of Houdini and how he could do anything. He was like a real life comic book hero.

Who from the escapology community inspires you?

James "The Amazing" Randi inspired me greatly. I remember an episode of Happy Days in 1978 where he played himself. That is true greatness when you get to play yourself in a fictional sitcom. In 1987 I met Randi and he believed in me enough to help get me on my first USA TV special, "In Search of Houdini." It was a two hour live special with many greats of magic on it. David Copperfield, Penn & Teller, Harry Blackstone Jr., Banachek, The Pendragons, and a young 23-year-old Dean Gunnarson from Canada. Randi got hurt in rehearsal and I went on live television to perform the Houdini Milk Can escape on live TV. It was the first time I ever attempted it. Randi later retired and named me as his successor and gave me all his handcuffs and escape equipment, including his Milk Can he used on Happy Days.

I’m always doing a variety of TV shows, corporate dates, and travelling. I will be performing in China again soon now that restrictions for performers have changed. Also, I will be back again at a great Magic Festival in Quebec City this September. I also have a film that we just finished taping being released later this fall. It is based on my book, "Dean Gunnarson : The Making of an Escape Artist" and my friendship in 1983 with a teenager named Philip [Hornan] who was battling cancer. We had such great adventures escaping from the RCMP detachments, performing magic shows at the Cancer Foundation for the other children, to trying to find the real magic to try and save his life. It’s an amazing story and one that I have carried with me for 40 years. Now I get to share it on the screen.

Was there anyone or anything instrumental to you becoming an escape artist?
Peter Reveen was the first true Showman I ever saw live on stage when I was 15 years old. The way he could stand on stage and command an audience! Wow. I thought that’s what an escape artist must be able to do. My time with James Randi over the years was always such a learning experience from a true master. My best friend and mentor for over 25 years was Bill Brace. He was a retired RCMP Officer that started the Society of Young Magicians (SYM) in Canada. I truly miss my friendship with all of them. Having a mentor is so important in life. People that we can look up to and ask for advice and information.  

I used to also travel to Minneapolis a lot in the 1980s and spent time at Eagle Magic Shop downtown. Toad Hall Toys in Winnipeg I also enjoyed when they started selling magic tricks and I would take some of the old magicians there for the afternoon and listen to their old stories of magic from another era.

Did you ever get discouraged and think about quitting escapology?  
Sure, many times. A life in magic is a tough choice. Being self-employed is a challenge. You go through periods of great joy, success, and triumph, then waiting and looking for your next show and paycheck. You must be truly passionate, dedicated, and believe in yourself to succeed in this world. Never surrender to your fears or those telling you can’t succeed. It has been a long journey of over 40 years of escaping around the world, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat. When you feel like quitting you need to remind yourself why you started in the first place. The only people that have never failed at something are those that have never tried !

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I like to get ready early and be prepared. I don’t like to feel rushed before going on stage. I like to get my energy up. I always warm up by stretching and warming up my voice (even though I can't sing ... lol) I actually took singing/voice lessons in the 1980s because I was losing my voice on stage. My coach taught me to always warm up my throat before a show. And lastly, I love a shot of Dr. Pepper before I take the stage. Must be my Texas roots …

What inspired you to be a part of this season of Canada's Got Talent?
I have said no to "all" the "Got Talents" for many years. When they asked me this year, I had always wanted to go back to Niagara Falls. They told me about this season and how exciting it was going to be, and I really wanted to part of it.  I also have some really special memories there with Henry Muller and The Houdini Museum. I wanted to attempt a big escape at the original home of the Daredevil, Niagara Falls so this was my chance.  So I had to say yes and give it my best.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Magic has been a great career. I have travelled the world and seen and done many things people could only dream about. But most important to me are all the friendships I have developed from performing with so many great and wonderful magicians over the decades. Those friendships truly mean the world to me.



Thank you Dean, for making the time to answer our questions!  Break a leg on CGT!

Learn more about Dean at his website AlwaysEscaping.com or follow him on Instagram.

Was that Dean hanging upside down and on fire at the end of last week's episode?  Tune in next Tuesday to find out! 

Watch Canada's Got Talent Tuesday nights at CityTV.





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