BROOKE: Ok. We're joined now by OTM producer Chris Neary who produced this hour on disappearing beats. Hi Chris.
CHRIS: Hey Brooke.
BROOKE: You took notes?
CHRIS: I did. I did.
BROOKE: And you found Bruce Bray a person who died a few years ago who lived a couple hours from you in New Jersey.
CHRIS: And the small obit that ran when he died is pretty intriguing. He was young. And he was a renowned children's magician. So I went down there and talked to his mother and to his best friend.
BROOKE: The original obit that was all it said pretty much.
CHRIS: Pretty much.
BROOKE: Let's here about the life of Bruce Bray.
CHRIS: Bruce W. Bray Jr. performed the rolling egg trick on the White House lawn, more than once, and one time Jennifer Lopez was performing on the stage next to him. Later, he did magic at a kids' birthday party at James Gandolfini’s house.
JEAN BRAY...Jesse Eisenberg starred in this movie ‘Now You See Me’ which was about a band of magicians. When Jesse was interviewed, they asked him where he got his love of magic he said that it was from a magician named Bruce who performed at his 5th birthday party.
CHRIS: Jean Bray had five kids. Bruce was the oldest. He had no interest in going into construction like his father. He never went to college. Never worked at Starbucks. Never had any interest in doing anything other than magic. He started doing magic when he was 7. A lot of kids go through a magic phase. His went on for 35 years.
JEAN BRAY: One of the tricks he did was cut me in three pieces [laughs] that was at his first show and it was for the Ark program, which is adults that are handicapped, and it was really comical because after the show, all of them came up and they were touching me all over to see if I was back together again [laughs].
CHRIS: After high school, Bruce gave himself two years to make it in the business. At first, he wore the classic clown get-up. A big red nose. The whole thing. When he got more confident, a tuxedo. When he became so well known in North Jersey he was turning down work, just a nice shirt.
JEAN GRAY: He did shave his head, he had started to lose some of his hair, he liked that look better than a receding hair line. He was very vain.
CHRIS: Uh, was he very vain?
BILL FORD Yes, he was vain. But you know, he's a performer.
CHRIS: Bill Ford was Bruce Bray’s best friend.
FORD: ..his eyelashes- every girl that walked up to him that was the first thing that they made a comment on.
JEAN BRAY: His eyes just popped out of his face. From the time he was a baby he had those great big eyes.
CHRIS: He performed without a stage. Living rooms and backyards in North Jersey were his theaters. He did tricks with names like: ‘The Coloring Book” and “The Donut.” And “The Tuxedo.” That was when he stood behind a kid, slip his arms under his shoulders, and performed a trick, so it looked the kid was doing it.
TAPE OF BRAY PERFORMING
FORD: The kids would scream and scream and scream. So much that he's had several times where kids would pee in their pants during the show. And I always told him you should use a slogan "Pee in your pants funny" but he wouldn't use that in his advertising.
CHRIS: He used to say that he performed for children because they were less skeptical, more enthusiastic than adults. You could say the same of Bray.
TAPE OF BRAY PERFORMING
CHRIS: Bray drove a van with his picture painted on the side, but he never lived more than a few miles from where he was born. He loved Mexico, though. He’d planned to move to there. His Spanish had almost gotten good enough to do magic shows.
JEAN BRAY: He could go down to Mexico and just be walking the streets and people would recognize him and go, Bruce Bray, Bruce Bray! You know a lot of people knew him down there.
CHRIS: In May 2010, Bruce Bray fell down a flight of stairs.
JEAN: Then he had a traumatic brain injury. They were concerned about the swelling on his brain. And ultimately had to do a craniotomy on him where they removed the whole front half of his skull. And at that point his head just swelled from the brain swelling. Eventually that did come down, and then his head sunk in like a soup bowl and it was six months later, they finally put the skull back on because they felt it was safe.
CHRIS: Bray stayed in the hospital for 13 months, enduring more than 30 procedures. Jean Bray and Bill Ford made sure one of them was there everyday for an 8 hour shift. Bray didn’t talk once during that whole time.
JEAN: One time I took up some animals balloons and I blew one up for him and just handed to him and he just automatically went in and made a dog, like he did still have something there but it was not enough, I guess.
CHRIS: Bruce Bray died in 2011 at the age of 43 Hartwick Rehabilitation Center. He was a magician. For On the Media, I’m Chris Neary.