As we learned last week, spoon-wielding psychic pocket monster Kadabra is returning to the Pokémon TCG after a twenty year absence. I wanted to learn the complete story of why it ever went missing in the first place. What I wasn’t expecting in doing so was to accidentally make friends with a man I’ve disliked for decades, world-famous illusionist and ruiner of cutlery, Uri Geller.
Among the original set of 151 Pokémon released in the late 1990s was Kadabra, a yellow Psi monster with telekinetic powers, clutching a bent silver spoon. Inspired by Uri Geller, what most would assume to be a flattering tribute was interpreted by Geller very differently. In the year 2000, on discovering there was a collectible creature based on his likeness, Uri Geller sued Nintendo. While the case never went all the way through the courts, Nintendo relented, and until this year, no card has featured the yellow mustachioed fox-thing since 2003’s Skyridge set. In 2020, Geller made clear that he now regretted this action and that he was rescinding any complaints over the card’s existence. Then last week we learned from a leak about a new set due to release this summer that Kadabra was finally to return, in a card collection celebrating the original 151 Gen I Pokémon.
Uri Geller, for anyone under the age of 30, is an Israeli performer known all around the world for his so-called “psychic abilities,” the most famous of which was a trick in which he would bend and break spoons. Geller claimed it—and any number of other party tricks—were evidence of his other-worldly powers, of “energy” he could channel. Credulous TV stations the world wide would give him specials, often live, where Geller could perform his feats, which would usually involve some form of feedback where viewers could call in to report the spoons bending in their cutlery drawers, their stopped clocks restarting, and how they too somehow mysteriously drew a picture of a house, just like Geller did. The schtick lasted for decades, driven by Geller’s absolutely astonishing gift for self-promotion, despite many (often successful) efforts to debunk his claims.
Geller’s suing Nintendo wasn’t some peculiar one-off, no moment of eccentricity from that strange guy off the TV who was once Michael Jackson’s best man. Around the same time Geller sued Nintendo, he also sued a magazine I wrote for—PC Format—for its heinous crime of describing the magician as a “magician.” (Something he later admitted to me was a bad choice.) Future Publishing paid out an astronomical amount of money to make him go away, and from that moment on, every word we wrote was scrutinized by publishers with a new level of paranoia and fear.
It’s fair to say I wasn’t a fan.
This wasn’t the first time I’d spoken to Uri Geller. To my great embarrassment, I remember as a teenager thinking I would prank-call him on a radio show he was presenting in the UK. He saw through me instantly, but I did learn something important: Geller is not an idiot. He may promote absolute nonsense, spreading unhelpful drivel about mystical powers, and have made his fortune by pretending crappy magic tricks were proof of the paranormal, but he’s smart with it.
Geller, now 76, is living in his home country of Israel, with his wife, along with his life-long business partner and brother-in-law, Shipi Shtrang. At 76, you might expect him to have slowed down a little, or to have—you know—aged. But for however obvious most of his tricks may be, I absolutely cannot explain how he still looks in his 50s, and springs around with the same excitement as he did during his television heyday. How do I know this? Because of the video of his breaking a spoon that he insisted on sending to my son the day after we spoke. I think he might be immortal. It’s probably something to do with his lying inside pyramids.
“I already have close to 250,000 views,” Geller informed me with bubbling excitement during our call on Friday afternoon, in reference to his Kadabra tweet. I know that it’s over 300,000 now, because of the screenshot with the number circled that he sent me via WhatsApp on Sunday evening. Throughout our call Geller referred to innumerable examples of his fame, both then and now, sometimes relevant, sometimes wildly out of the blue. Over the weekend I’ve received links to at least 15 articles that talk about the performer in glowing terms.
Geller gets down to the Kadabra story. “I was in Tokyo,” he begins, immediately distracted by telling me how famous he is in Japan, how he has been for decades, “doing big TV shows there ever since the early ‘70s.” Come 2000, he’s inundated by children in a mall, all clutching copies of a card. “They were shouting, ‘Yungeller!’” the Japanese name of Kadabra, a Pokémon undeniably based on Uri Geller, with his name in an Anglicized version of its Japanese name, ユンゲラー. “And when I held the card in my hand, I said, ‘Hang on, that’s my name on the card.’ No one had ever contacted me from Nintendo Pokémon. And, you know, I was pretty angry at that.”
He took Nintendo to court in Los Angeles, but as he puts it, “it kind of didn’t go anywhere.” Despite that, Kadabra never appeared again. “I believe that the card was created by a graphic artist, who probably was a boy when he saw me on Japanese television—I had big TV shows on the top of the Tokyo Tower, spoons were bending all across Japan. So that’s how I think the card was born. That’s my theory.”
He’s likely sort of half-right. Kadabra is the middle-evolution of a three-stage Pokémon, beginning with Abra, and ending with Alakazam. In Japan, Abra is “Casey,” named after purported psychic Edgar Cayce, while Alakazam in Japan is “Foodin,” assumed to be an allusion to Harry Houdini. Kadabra sports Zener card symbols, while all three’s fox-like appearance further links them to mythological magic. Like all Gen I Pokémon, they are all the artistic creations of Ken Sugimori, who is 20 years younger than Geller, so certainly could have been watching his shows at an influential age. Spoons, however, were not bending all over Japan.
“So 20 years go by,” Geller continues, “I get thousands of emails, postcards, letters from all around the world. From kids, grownups, grandparents, I mean, you name it. Everyone was begging me to allow the card back.” Mmm-hmm. “Then, throughout the years, I became a grandfather. Our granddaughters live in Los Angeles…and you know, talking to them about the card, and seeing them play with the toys, I said, ‘What on Earth did I do?!’ And I realized that it was a mistake. You know, it was a tribute to Uri Geller! So I decided to write to the chairman of Pokémon and tell him that I’m releasing them from the ban.”
Geller tells me that he received back a “lovely letter,” and since then he’s created an entire wall for Pokémon in his museum in Israel. There really is a museum, in Jaffa, Israel, just North-West of Jerusalem, around which Geller gives personal tours. “And then,” he adds, “I just heard that the card is coming back. So you can imagine how I’m elated! I’m happy and overjoyed. And I asked for forgiveness on my social media.”
I wonder if he’ll be trying to pull a Kadabra from a pack for himself this summer. “Are you kidding me?!” Geller bursts out. “I’m a huge Pokémon fan now!” He tells me his plans to mount such cards in plexiglass and hang them in his museum. I think he plans to get them graded, and tells me a local Pokémon card expert has helped him buy some rare cards to add to his new-found collection. I ask Geller if he has a favorite Pokémon other than Yungeller, and he quickly changes the subject to ask if it’s true that some rare cards sell for millions.
Before I can ask another question, Geller steers things in his own direction. “I’m now very happy and glad and amazed and mystified. That’s the word, mystified, that I became a part of the Pokémon family. Look, throughout the years, and this nobody really knows, but for instance I’m amazed how I managed to instill a rather trivial demonstration of spoon bending into world culture.” I try to interrupt to agree with this entirely, but he keeps going. “I mean, if you look at movies like the Matrix, where Keanu Reeves learns to bend spoons from a child, George Clooney played me, Robert De Niro played me. I know I’m showing off now. There are movies and big rock bands like Incubus mentioned my name in their songs. Woody Allen mentions me in his movie. I’ll tell you a funny thing that no one knows. I told my wife Hannah that I need a small stool, so we go to IKEA because I love IKEA. And then I see a stool in the corner of the room, and I say to Hannah, I love this stool because it has bent legs, and when I come close to the stool to pick it up, low and behold it’s called Uri.” And on and on, about how he has no agent, no managers, no PR (which are all roles I’m certain Shipi has performed over the years), and then without taking a breath he tells me the secret to success: Originality. “I created something original that has never been done before I came on the scene in the history of metal bending. And then you have these CIA reports about me. And then the controversy…”
And the more it goes on, the more I find myself liking him. And the more guilty I begin to feel about that. I feel like I’m deceiving him. I’ve owned a copy of James Randi’s wonderful book, The Truth About Uri Geller, for over twenty years. I’ve studied how all of Geller’s effects are achieved. I’ve watched and re-watched the wonderful moment his silliness was exposed live on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in 1973, when Carson and Randi worked behind the scenes to set Geller up, to ensure he couldn’t cheat.
I’ve adored this moment from 2007, when a hilariously terrible fake psychic appeared on a live NBC competition TV show called Phenomenon, with Geller pretending it could be real, infuriating Criss Angel and almost leading to a physical fight.
I’ve read books about him, watched every UK TV appearance I could, to enjoy getting angry at the gullible hosts. I live for videos like this:
I wanted to fess up, and finally there was an opportunity. “The more the skeptics try to debunk me, the more famous they make me…” Geller was saying, and I jumped in. “Well,” I said, “I was going to say, you were conclusively debunked live on Johnny Carson, and yes, even so, people to this day still believe it.” I was agreeing with him! He’s absolutely right that he owes a fantastic amount of his fame to people like Randi, who dogged him throughout his career. But, you know, they didn’t just “try” to debunk him.
“I have to correct you,” says Geller, “because I was going to bring up Johnny Carson. I was not conclusively debunked. As a matter of fact, I bent the spoon that Ricardo Montalban was holding, but Johnny Carson, that wasn’t good enough for him. He was sneering and scoffing.” Carson absolutely wasn’t. He was trying to be eminently fair, but if you watch the video above, you’ll see Geller setting up the comedian and amateur magician with so many unavoidable one-liners. I try to protest, and say that Randi definitely got him. And oh God, I’ve said the name “Randi” to Uri Geller, and I’m quite certain he’s going to hang up on me. I realize I really don’t want him to.
“Randi was my best publicist,” says Geller, and I warmed to him even more. “Before he died, I should have sent him one thousand bouquets of flowers.” I wish he had. “The skeptics create the mystery around Uri Geller. Without the skeptics, I wouldn’t be what I am today.”
I cannot begin to express how much I’m enjoying this now. I strongly suspect that Geller 20 years ago would have hung up the phone. His TV appearances around the time were often very bitter, very angry, his 1970s’ meekness entirely abandoned, replaced with flashes of rage on his face when people would question his powers. It makes sense to me that the Geller of that era would sue Nintendo without stopping to think how awful that made him look. But he’s different again, now. He’s softened, there’s a twinkle in his eye that suggests a conjuror with some excellent patter, rather than a professional hoax spreading unscientific bullshit. I wonder if he’s willing to admit to being a little too slap-happy with other lawsuits back then, and ask if there are any other times he’s sued that he now regrets.
That old defensiveness is still there, and Geller begins describing the times he’s been genuinely libeled, and even some of the utterly awful antisemitic horror he’s had to deal with over his lifetime. I emphatically agree with him that such things are terrible, unacceptable, but steer back to, you know, suing a PC magazine for calling him a magician. “Yeah,” he says, stopping in his tracks. “That was stupid also.” Oh my.
But as quickly as this moment comes, it’s gone again, and Uri’s once more listing examples of how incredibly famous he still is. I’m being told about how many times he’s appeared on the front page of British tabloid rag, the Daily Star. I laugh, and suggest that’s maybe not something to be that proud of, and he lists how he’s in the Guardian, the UK Times, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post. “And let me tell you something John,” he continues, “I prefer to be on the cover of the Daily Star or the Sun than the Times, just figure out why.” I draw breath to give my guess, that there’s a political element to this? But before I can speak Geller answers himself. “Google how many readers the Sun has, and how many readers the Times has.”
I say, you’re 76 and you’re still so driven by publicity!
“Now, but that’s me,” he replies. “That’s Uri Geller!”
I tell him how I own The Truth About Uri Geller, how big a fan of Randi I am, and I ask him a question that I know is too rude to ask. I ask him if he ever feels guilty about all the money he’s taken from people who’ve been tricked by his antics.
“I totally reject what you’ve just said,” he responds, very firmly. He asks me to Google his charitable foundation, he tells me about the children’s lives his fundraising has saved, emphasizing that of the 1,000 children who he’s helped, half were Palestinian, as if I’d have thought he might not. Good grief, I would never have thought that! “So I reject these types of questions.” I bluster about how a few years back he was selling bloody plastic pyramids for people’s backyards, to channel magical energy, but he continues over the top of me. And I feel awful for making him so cross, even though I know I’m right! People who pretend to be psychic, who pretend to have magic powers, they encourage a world where monstrous bastards can reap fortunes from people’s grief, “mediums” who cold-read poor, broken people, lying to them about messages from dead loved ones. (To be clear, Geller has never done this.) None of this is OK! I want to shout it all at him, to convince him that he needs to not stop with his contrition over Kadabra cards, but to apologize for everything!
Instead I tell him about the time I tried to prank call him, and what an idiot I made of myself, and how smart I realized he was. But I think I’ve lost him. Geller signals that he’s wrapping up the call, he says, “I think I answered most of your questions,” and I agree, and I thank him for how generous he’s been given the nature of some of the questions. But he isn’t done. He’s just making sure he’s given me all I need before he moves on to me.
“Tell me about you,” Geller says. “Where do you live?” I tell him. He asks about my family, if I have children. I mention I have a son, he’s eight, and Geller emphatically tells me I have to WhatsApp him, because he’ll go into his museum the next day and create a spoon-bending video for my boy. Then he asks me about games journalism, and then, in a weird turn, starts telling me that I should also do more in my life, how I should create my own business, become a millionaire. I’m told that anything I can visualize I can achieve, and I want to interrupt and suggest I visualize growing wings and being able to eat planets, but he’s being nice in his own bizarre Uri Geller way, and I don’t want to be a dick at all any more. “You’re basically the architect of your own life,” I’m told, and that I should be thinking about doing other things “parallel to your writing.”
I point out it’s interesting he assumes that I’m not, but add that I very much appreciate how much he seems to care. “Yeah of course I care about you!” Uri replies.
In a totally different way, with a very different attitude, I try one more time. We’re both complimenting each other, and I say I think it’s the right time to just own that he’s a magician, because he’s a good one! He’s one of the best at what he does, he should celebrate that.” His response is something I genuinely love.
“I was invited, I think three years ago, to Blackpool [a seaside town in England] to lecture in front of 4,000 magicians and mentalists…And it’s funny, because somewhere in the middle of the lecture, somebody got up and said, ‘Come on, you should now admit you’re just a magician.’ And my answer to him was, ‘Come on, do you really believe that at my age I will admit anything?” I laugh loudly, Uri tells me the audience laughed loudly. He says he wants to finish with an Oscar Wilde quote. “There is only one worse thing in life than being talked about. And that’s not being talked about.”
We’ve not stopped chatting since. Via WhatsApp, Geller has pinged me multiple articles about himself, offered to host my family in Israel (I am so incredibly tempted), and answered more of my questions. At one point he sends an article about a ridiculous-sounding Italian film due out this year about a group of Italian children who are claimed to have developed psychic powers after watching Geller on TV in the 1970s, and the article concludes by saying that these children were studied by universities, but never quite to the point of scientific scrutiny.
“Funny how these things always stop short of being scientifically tested!” I replied. He soars over it, showing me a picture of a new magazine with him on the cover, explaining the “synchronicity” of its arrival, then teases me saying how I need to “stop living in the past,” how I must not be “locked down into your Randi stuff,” with a crying-with-laughter emoji. “I like you though!” he adds, before linking a video in which he appears from 2017.
“I like you too!” I reply. “I am so delighted I appear to have accidentally become friends with Uri Geller.”