Pigeon Forge native Michael Keating began performing magic in elementary school. The craft he has perfected has taken him to exotic locations around the globe and to national audiences where he has worked with the man proclaimed to be the “Magician of the Century” by the Society of Professional Magicians.
Born in Reno, Nevada, Keating began entertaining young friends on the schoolyard as a child. By the time he was in high school he had turned professional. While many of his high school friends took afternoon jobs in local restaurants, Keating was making TV commercials that featured his illusions and performing in California.
Soon after high school he met a promoter who began booking numerous shows for the up-and-coming illusionist. The tour known as “Special Effects” soon ended on a sour note when Keating discovered his promoter had squandered their money.
“We made a lot of money,” said Keating. “But, I had no idea how much money he was going through. When I finally found out what was being spent I realized I was 18-years-old and deeply in debt.”
Fortunately, Keating’s act had caught the attention of master magician David Copperfield. Shortly after the “Special Effects” show came to a close, Keating had begun an engagement in Las Vegas. There he was approached by Joel Breen who worked for Copperfield and offered Keating a job as a technical advisor and assistant.
Keating went to work for Copperfield in 1987 and assisted in the production of three of the master magician’s TV specials, “The Magic of David Copperfield IX: Escape from Alcatraz”, and “The Magic of David Copperfield X: The Bermuda Triangle” and “The Magic of David Copperfield XI: The Explosive Encounter.”
“When you see me on camera during those shows you will see me with different hair styles,” said Keating. “I had long hair in some scenes, blond hair in some scenes and dark hair in others. They wanted the assistants to have a different look because they didn’t want to detract any attention from David.”
During his tenure with Copperfield, Keating got the opportunities to meet the who’s who of Hollywood, including Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Eddie Van Halen, Cindy Williams and many others.
“Michael Jackson loved magic,” said Keating. “He would come backstage to meet David after the shows and while he was waiting I would hang out and speak with him.”
Keating later worked briefly with Jackson creating special effects for his show. When Copperfield played at Ford’s Theater for a tribute to President Ronald Reagan, Keating got to meet the Gipper himself. Over the years his contacts in Tinsel Town have enabled him to create special effects for the Grammy Awards, MTV Awards and advisor to M.C. Hammer and Justin Bieber on lighting and special effects.
Keating earned some minor roles in three movies including the Brad Pitt flick “Cool World,” the Bob Newhart film “The Entertainers” and a Taiwanese film titled “One Camel Cry.”
His work with Copperfield involved handling the magician’s exotic animals, such as lions and tigers. His career almost came to an end following an accident that almost cost Keating his hand. One evening during a performance using the “Death Saw,” Keating’s right hand was crushed. Doctors told him he might lose his hand. In the eight weeks following the accident, he stayed at Copperfield’s Las Vegas apartment where he recuperated from his injuries. He slowly regained partial use of his hand.
“I had won awards for my sleight of hand illusions,” said Keating. “I can’t do those sleight of hand illusions anymore but I can still perform the big illusions.”
Not long after his recovery he and Copperfield parted company over a falling out and Keating began his own show in Las Vegas. He began traveling the nation performing at numerous venues and visited Pigeon Forge to visit his mother who had retired to the area. He discovered his mother’s health was failing and decided to begin working locally so that he could take care of her.
Keating opened the show “Stars on Ice” across from Archie Campbell’s Comedy Show. A dispute between the two theater owners brought an end to the show. Keating soon went to work with Fee/Hedrick which opened the Comedy Barn where Archie Campbell’s Comedy Show had once operated. Keating later built the sets for Fee/Hedrick’s Black Bear Jamboree and joined the cast portraying the nerdy Dexter, the squeaky voiced, bespectacled assistant to the show’s director.
Keating was asked to open a summer show featuring his own magic at former Grand Majestic Theater on Music Road. When the engagement ended he was asked to create a magic segment for the new Smoky Mountain Opry Theater. In addition, he was asked to work with the theater’s two tigers and the white lion.
“I would sit up and baby sit the cats throughout the night,” said Keating. “I have always been comfortable working with the big cats. They are like my kids. I know their personalities.”
Keating’s work with Fee/Hedrick came to a close at the beginning of Nov. Since then he has met with promoters in Las Vegas, Orlando and Las Angeles in hopes of creating a new show. Recently he traveled to China to assist in the production of stage show in which he created lavish special effects that made national news in China.
Keating is in hopes of remaining in the Pigeon Forge area. He has more than $200,000 in elaborate props and illusions in storage waiting for a venue. He is hoping to secure a local venue.
“Magic tricks can be expensive,” said Keating. “A single illusion could cost on average of $5,000 or more. For me magic is a driving force. It’s all encompassing.”