Harry Lorayne Obituary, Dazzling Master Of Total Recall, Harry Lorayne, Is Dead At 96

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Harry Lorayne Obituary, Dazzling Master Of Total Recall, Harry Lorayne, Is Dead At 96

A memory expert and magician who was a favorite guest of Johnny Carson’s, he astonished audiences by reeling off the names of hundreds of people he had only just met.

Harry Lorayne, who parlayed a childhood reading disability and the brutal punishment it engendered into an international career as a memory expert, summoning the names of roomfuls of strangers in a single sitting, rattling off entire small-town telephone books and telling astonished audiences what was written on any page of a given issue of Time magazine, died on Friday in Newburyport, Mass. He was 96.

His death, at a hospital, was confirmed by his publicist, Skye Wentworth, who did not specify a cause. He had lived in Newburyport, north of Boston.

Fleet of mind and fleet of mouth, Mr. Lorayne was a sought-after guest on television shows and a particular favorite of Johnny Carson’s, appearing on “The Tonight Show” some two dozen times.

Mr. Lorayne had begun his professional life as a sleight-of-hand artist and well into old age was considered one of the foremost card magicians in the country. As both magician and mnemonist, he was a direct, gleeful scion of the 19th-century midway pitchman and the 20th-century borscht belt tummler.

By the 1960s, Mr. Lorayne was best known for holding audiences rapt with feats of memory that bordered on the elephantine. Such feats were born, he explained in interviews and in his many books, of a system of learned associations — call them surrealist visual puns — that seemed equal parts Ivan Pavlov and Salvador Dalí.

Mr. Lorayne demonstrated his act on the night of July 23, 1958, when, in his first big break, he appeared on the TV game show “I’ve Got a Secret.”

While the host, Garry Moore, was introducing members of the show’s panel, Mr. Lorayne was at work in the studio audience, soliciting the names of its members.

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He was then called onstage. Mr. Moore asked the audience members who had given Mr. Lorayne their names to stand. Hundreds did.

“That’s Mr. Saar,” Mr. Lorayne began, pointing to a man in the balcony. (The transcriptions here are phonetic.)

“Mr. Stinson,” he continued in his rapid-fire New Yorkese, gathering speed. “Miss Graf. Mrs. Graf. Miss Finkelstein. If I can see correctly, I believe that’s the Harpin family: Mr. and Mrs. Harpin; there was Dorothy Harpin and Esther Harpin. Mrs. Pollock. And way in the corner — it’s a little dark there — but I believe that’s Mrs. Stern.”

And so it went, through scores of names, each impeccably recalled.

How did he do it? “You have to take the name, make it mean something and then associate it to one outstanding feature on the person’s face,” he explained, indicating a man in the audience named Theus.

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