Most days you can find West Mt. Airy resident Richard Horn in his lab at Thomas Jefferson University, scrutinizing ion channels, which are proteins that help ions travel across cell membranes. But on Thursday mornings, he slips on a green volunteer vest, takes the elevator to the cardiology unit on the 5th floor and makes cards come alive.
“Hi, my name is Richard,” he said, calm and rehearsed. “Aside from being a Jefferson volunteer, I’m also a card-carrying magician.”
Horn, a professor of physiology, has a tumultuous history with cards that stretches into the 70s and takes him back to his touring days. While taking a break from college to play keyboard for Australian pop star Helen Reddy, Horn found himself restless in casino after casino. So he picked up card counting. It was simple to learn how, he says, the Las Vegas libraries are full of gambling books. Horn admits he was obsessed. He took his deck of cards everywhere and practiced every minute he could. His hobby ended quickly, though, when a couple of casino thugs advised him to stay far away.
These days Horn is honest about his trickery. It started four years ago, when his wife bought an amateur magic set for her brother, a pediatrician. She thought it would be nice for her brother to perform for his young patients. But it was Horn who got hooked. He began studying magic books, videos, DVDs. He is constantly honing his craft: Horn says he’s practiced some tricks over 100,000 times, yet he still sometimes drops cards.
In performing at the hospital, Horn has found that some people don’t like magic. “They find it threatening, like you’re bamboozling them,” he said. But some patients welcome Horn into their hospital rooms. Sometimes it’s the visitors who wave Horn in, while the patient sleeps (“The family needs some magic, too,” one visitor says). Even nurses and custodians peek in.
Horn, who also performs at the Allen’s Lane High Point Café and does private events, specializes in sleight-of-hand, a type of magic involving skillful manipulation of everyday items. His hospital routine lasts no more than ten minutes, consisting of an opener (he transforms five $1 bills into five $20 bills, and almost everyone asks if he would come to Sugarhouse with them), a few short tricks, plenty of dry humor and a closer (shown in the video above). There are no top hats, no bunnies or saws in Horn’s routine. That’s too showy for his taste.
For Horn, magic is all about amazement. He finds people’s reactions addicting, even his own.
“I have this sort of gleeful awe when I see the things I’m doing,” he said. “Even if I know how I’m doing it.”
For booking information and more, visit his website: or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org