On Halloween night 2008, Criss Angel Believe premiered at Luxor. It was Cirque du Soleil’s first collaboration with an individual star. Embarking upon a 10-year, multimillion-dollar contract with Cirque and in the middle of a 96-episode run with Criss Angel Mindfreak on A&E, Angel was at the height of his fame and, some might say, arrogance. But then the stage show didn’t enjoy the success that had been anticipated and there was trouble with the media, including a very public fiasco with celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. The show was retooled, replacing much of the Cirque-branded elements with more of Angel’s edgy, rock star-styled illusions. Today, Angel, 45, is stretching his wings again, with new illusions in the works and a weekly TV show, Criss Angel Believe, which premiered on Spike on October 15. At the five-year anniversary party for his stage show, an older, wiser Angel sat down to give a surprisingly candid interview.
You’re at the halfway point in your 10-year contract. What do you have planned for the next five years?
I am a maniac when it comes to not allowing us to become complacent. In these economic times, people have choices. It’s about keeping it fresh by introducing new illusions. Next year, you’re going to see me levitate an audience member. I’ve been working on this for 18 years. I’m working on a new opening. I’m going to be redoing all of the video content, so it will have a much more club sensibility.
Like a nightclub?
It’s going to feel like what’s going on with Skrillex [and] dubstep. I actually wrote a lot of music in this show. All you can do in life is learn from your experiences. Trust me, I have a lot of experiences to learn from.
So if you’re into electronic dance music, did you go to Electric Daisy Carnival?
I did not. I do 10 shows a week typically, and then I’m doing a television series. So my day consists of about 18-21 hours, seven days a week. People look at success, and they don’t see the other side of it, which is a tremendous demand on time. You have to have a high work ethic to keep having success over such a long run. Even though it was difficult to get to the destination, it’s more difficult remaining at the destination.
That’s how I feel about weight loss!
Me, too. You can lose the weight, right? But you have to make it part of your lifestyle. Then you see the cookie, and think, “Oh, this won’t kill me,” but then that cookie turns into brownies. It’s all about keeping a rigid schedule and not getting off course. Let’s face it, when the show opened up, I learned a lot. I learned a lot about myself, about this town, and I’m a different person.
How have you changed?
In so many ways. I just get it. One thing I learned is never believe your own hype. Don’t listen to it, just bury yourself. Whether it’s positive, negative—just stay focused. You can’t get caught up in the other garbage.
How are your “Loyals” treating you these days?
Magic is a hokey novelty in the scheme of things. To have this type of success is really amazing. It’s amazing to have 6 million followers on Facebook and Twitter, for a magician. That’s unbelievable, so I owe those people everything.
Lance Burton said that with TV magic, you only have to get the illusion right once, and from one angle. Stage magic is the opposite.
That’s a very poignant point, and I would concur. Lance told me back in the late ’90s—I was driving in his van with him to have dinner, and I was no one—“Criss, you’re gonna be huge. You’re gonna make tons of money.” Lance predicted it before I could even predict it, and to this day, Lance is a dear friend. He is really a testament of hard work, talent and perseverance. He’s been a great role model.
He’s so nice! He let me come to his house, and I wasn’t even writing an article about him specifically.
Come to my house any time you want; you don’t even have to write an article.
He showed me his retired show doves. Where do you keep the doves in your show?
I keep the birds at the Luxor, but at home I have four dogs. I love animals.
What are the challenges of returning to television?
I did not want to go back on television doing what I already did. For the first time, I’m taking people behind the curtain into my secret society, and they’re going to understand the process: how I come up with something, how it evolves and how it’s brought to life. They’re going to meet my incredible team [and] see my 60,000-square-foot facility. People are going to see a different Criss Angel—a more evolved, a more sophisticated Criss Angel. What I mean by “sophisticated” are the illusions, demonstrations, escapes and the mind-body things I do are things I couldn’t even contemplate in my previous season.
What was it like to reanimate a corpse for your TV show?
A lot of people were questioning why I was doing that. The thing is, I was around 81 dead bodies. I saw bodies being cremated. I saw teeth and metal parts that would be hips and screws and elbows and shoulders, ashes, bodies. It just gave me so much more of an appreciation of life and how fragile it is, and how we should really appreciate every breath that we have. It’s so important to give love and to be a positive force in this world.
In Houdini’s day, spiritualism was huge. Did you bring any spiritual philosophy into attempting a resurrection?
It’s a dichotomy, right? Houdini spent more than 50 percent of his life proving that mediums and psychics were frauds. Then you have Criss Angel offering $2 million to the Long Island Medium to do something that [I] can’t explain, and she denied taking the challenge for obvious reasons—because she’s full of shit. Now, I’m raising the dead. I would just say you have to look at the parameters.
But you do believe in God?
I do believe in God. I believe that for every painting, there’s a creator. The world is a big painting.
Or trash heap, whatever.
It’s a painting nonetheless—good, bad or whatever. But that’s my personal belief, and I don’t put it on anybody. We should all respect each other and live in harmony because life is a gift. We should be helping one another and doing good for our fellow human. What is more important, money? That’s what I discovered. You asked before what the difference between me now and then is. I can buy whatever I want, and I have done that. That stuff never fulfills you. It’s a rat race out there, and everybody’s working to buy these things, but they will never bring peace or happiness.
Any specific examples?
Just in general, materialistic things don’t fulfill you. Love fulfills you. My mom’s here, that’s the greatest gift. My mom getting on a plane and surprising me is worth more money than you could offer me.
It was a surprise?
I never knew. [It’s] just amazing to have my family here, to have my friends here, to have the people who were with me in my darkest days. And you being here. I don’t even know you, but I get a good energy from you. I get a good sense of spirit, and I appreciate your time, and I really mean that. All we have in life is time, and we choose to spend that time how we wish. The fact that you wanted to spend a little bit of your time and your life with me, I’m grateful for it.
Thank you. Can you talk about these new DJs or musicians that you’re into?
I’m a big fan of Skrillex. I’m also a fan of great songs [that] are timeless—from The Beatles to Billy Joel to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath. I love what’s going on in the clubs, I love what’s going on just in general. It’s a very exciting time, with the Internet and technology. I wish I could live another 100 years to see what the world will be like. My greatest concern is the generations that are growing up with the Internet that are living in their own little world, spewing so much negativity. Kids need to get out in the world and discover the real magic, the magic of nature. How does a plane fly? You ask people how a plane flies, I guarantee eight out of 10 people wouldn’t be able to explain it. That’s because we take it for granted. There’s magic around us. A birth, a baby—I think computers are amazing, the Internet is amazing. It’s all wonderful stuff. But you have to use things in moderation.
You have two tears in your rotator cuff and a tear in your bicep for which you’re about to have surgery. How do you feel?
My concern is that I still haven’t finished shooting my television series. I’ve got some crazy things coming up that require me to put my shoulder in compromising situations. The surgeon is telling me not to do it, and I also have to do this show through the holidays, so it’s a fine line. If it pulls another millimeter and a half, my bicep will collapse [and] I might never recover fully. I’ll be out for a couple of weeks in January, but I’ll be back the first week of February. I’m going to put together a limited-engagement show, which will feature the world’s greatest magicians. I’m going to perform in it with a sling on, and I’ll do 20 or 30 minutes in the show. Then in April, I’ll go back—provided that I’m OK—to the full show of Believe.
For a few months, though, you’re risking it?
I guess so, but we’re in Vegas, aren’t we? It’s all about gambling, calculated risks. I can’t close the show. We are doing astronomical business right now. We are killing it. We have been the No. 1 best-selling magic show since we opened, but now it’s unbelievable. I’m not going to cancel the shows because I was in that situation: In the ’90s, I came to Vegas, went to go see a show, and it was canceled. I was devastated, and I made a vow that I would never do that if I was ever blessed enough to have a show.
Anything else you want readers to know?
If you haven’t seen my live show, definitely come out, because you can experience a show that will give you the opportunity to believe in your dream. You’ll see me accomplish the impossible, and I’m no different than anybody. I’m not special. If you have a dream, you can live your dream. I’m a living testament to that. When people leave my show, they leave with a positive, uplifting feeling that they can try to conquer the world, like I try to do. … You’re shaking your head. What’s running through your mind? Or do I need to tell you what it is?
If you know, you can certainly tell me.
I think you’re surprised.
It just seems very New Age-y.
I don’t think it’s New Age-y, I think it’s me. I don’t know what the definition of “New Age” is, but I can only be me. I can only speak from my heart. Sometimes it gets me in trouble, but sometimes it’s the truth. For me, it’s always about being straightforward, you know? I think you probably came into this interview expecting something different.
I don’t know what I was expecting.
I think if you think about it, you were probably expecting a different type of interview. I’m not saying it would be better or worse, but it was probably different. Maybe not. … Did you enjoy yourself tonight? Did you enjoy the show? Was it different than you anticipated?
I’m still hoping that girl got put back together.
Would you like to be in the show tomorrow? I can cut you in half.
I don’t know. You never put her back together.
But think of the advantages of being in two places at once.
Do you have any gossip about Las Vegas?
I’m so not gossip; I live a boring life. I’m always working. I don’t go out anymore, I just work. It keeps me out of trouble. [Laughs.]
What did you think of Burt Wonderstone, in which Jim Carrey parodied you?
When you have one of the biggest Hollywood celebrities doing a parody of you, I’m honored and flattered. Those guys came to meet me at my show, and after the show we talked. Fortunately they had great actors. Unfortunately they just missed the mark with the story. It would’ve been great if it was hugely successful, because the tide rises all ships.
Criss Angel Believe
Luxor, 7 p.m. Tue-Sat and 9:30 p.m. Tue, Fri and Sat, $59-$130, 262-4000, CirqueDuSoleil.com.