Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. For example, take Ricky Boone, a professional magician who lives in western North Carolina. A remarkable person, he has risen above physical disabilities to succeed as a performer and business owner. Through it all he has been guided and strengthened by family and friends, an unwavering faith in God, and a passion for stage magic.
Ricky was born forty-five years ago in the tiny town of Burnsville, North Carolina, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. As an infant he developed a rare bone disease that prevented his body from developing fully. Combined with severe scoliosis, it has kept him in a wheelchair for the last four decades.
His parents decided early on that their son would have every opportunity they could possibly give him. With that in mind they moved to Asheville, NC in 1973, so he could attend a school for physically challenged students. He was thirteen at the time. “Meeting the school principal was the turning point in my life,” he relates. The first time he saw the man, he rode onto campus on a motorcycle, pulled up to Ricky and some other students, introduced himself, and then entertained them for several minutes by doing coin tricks.
“I got hooked on magic right there,” Ricky says. This began a long friendship between him and the principal. The school official encouraged his interest in magic. Through long hours of practice he mastered illusion after illusion, and in his teen years began doing shows. By graduation he was an accomplished magician.
After high school he entered college, eventually earning degrees in accounting, computer programming and small business administration. “Every time I was about to graduate they would come up with another major that interested me, and back to school I’d go,” he says with a smile. After finishing his studies a local company approached him with a job offer, and for the next nine years he was a bookkeeper and assistant manager for the firm. “I liked the people I worked with, and the pay was good,” he relates, “but I always felt there was something missing in my life.” That something was magic.
Ricky’s chance to return to his first love came when the company he worked for closed. He used his savings to open Magic Central, his shop in Weaverville, NC. He also began to line up shows. Eventually he was touring the East Coast from Florida to Massachusetts. “We performed in some interesting places,” he says, “from churches and schools to seedy bars on the wrong side of town.”
One memorable moment came after a show he did at a tavern in Waynesville, NC. As he and his assistants were packing up his equipment, a burly, hostile looking man approached them. He stood in front of Ricky, gave him a long look, then reached out to shake his hand. “I just wanted to tell you God spoke to me during your show tonight,” the gentleman told him, “and He said that if you could make your dreams come true then so could I. You’ve inspired me to turn my life around, and I wanted to thank you.” Ricky shook his hand proudly. “It was one of many times that people have been helped by watching me perform. Things like that make me realize why I was meant to do this,” he says.
These days Ricky does an average of four shows a month. Many of them revolve around a theme requested by the client. For example, he often performs for businesspeople, and he designs tricks that involve or promote their company’s products. Other common venues are church and non-profit groups, during which his illusions are used to illustrate moral and spiritual truths.
One challenge he faces is the misconceptions a few people have about magic.
“They sometimes think I’m doing voodoo or some kind of black art,” he says, “but real magic has nothing to do with the Devil. It’s all about sleight of hand as well as sleight of tongue. The jokes I tell, the gestures I use, they’re all part of the act.”
Ricky has faced health related trials all his life, but each one he endures strengthens his faith in God. “I remember one night I gave one of my best shows before a great crowd,” he says, “and felt on top of the world. A few hours later I suffered a heart attack. The doctor who treated me said, ‘Mr. Boone, I’ll be honest. You’re not going to make it.’ Several days later, as I recovered, they said ‘Ricky, you might make it, but you’ll be bed ridden the rest of your life.’ As I kept getting better I was warned that I would never perform magic again. The following year I did more shows than ever before.”
Of all the close calls he has had, one stands out as especially notable. “I was sitting there,” he says, referring to the large glass window at the front of his store. Just outside of it is the parking lot. “Suddenly I had an urge to watch television,” he continues. “That was strange, because even though I kept a TV here in those days I very rarely watched it, and there was nothing on that day I wanted to see.” Nonetheless he followed the impulse and wheeled himself to the corner of the building where he kept his small set.
A few minutes later a woman pulled up in front of his store, and as she was turning off her car she stepped on the gas instead of the brake. The vehicle leaped over the curb and plowed directly though the window and into the shop. “If I hadn’t had that weird desire to watch TV I would have been directly in that car’s path,” he shares, “and I wouldn’t be here today.”
“I feel like I’m one of the luckiest persons alive,” he says. His plans for the future are to keep doing what he loves. “I was put here to perform magic,” he says, “and I’m not done yet.”