James Hydrick Speaks — Part I
You may remember a previous piece by me entitled Fifteen-Minute Messiah, about the incredible, and sadly-forgotten story of James Hydrick, the page-flipping Kung Fu psychic, turned man-no-prison-could-hold, who fooled the entire world, at least for a while, back in the early 80s. If you don’t, then familiarise yourself at that link, or check out my book, Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal, which features that, and similar stories.
A remarkable cross between Bruce Lee and Professor X, the tale of Hydrick’s rise, subsequent disappearance, and muddled mythos has fascinated me for years. Now, thanks to the generosity of a third party, who’s interviewing Hydrick for an upcoming project of their own, I’ve had the opportunity to put a series of questions to the man himself. So right here, speaking publicly for the first time in over thirty years, direct from the source, James Hydrick shares some exclusive insight into this amazing story, and clears up some of the misconceptions swirling about his legend.
— Did you have a plan for how far you’d take things had Dan Korem not made his film, or were you playing it by ear?
I had no plan going into the Korem Show. The deal presented to me was another demonstration of my illusions and magic tricks. There was no dress rehearsal. However, early into the show, I caught on quickly that this was about promoting Danny Korem at the expense of James Hydrick. And, when it was over and edited, the show presented me in the worst light. I came off the bad guy and Korem the hero; that hurt my career for years. I just want to say that where James Randi is a clever gentleman, Danny Korem cannot pull scruples out of a hat.
Nothing in the show was premeditated by me. I came into it with a third grade education and strong martial arts skills. I’d had an abusive childhood like you wouldn’t believe; I’m not looking for sympathy. So, I accepted the appearance on the Korem show in ignorance of what was going to come down. There was no script except what Korem had in mind to defame me, and grab the fame for himself. He told Steve Bo Keeley’s brother Tom Keeley, before starting the show, that the goal of the project was to debunk a famous magician.
I never intended to deceive anyone on the show. I used magic that others call ‘psychic abilities’. Korem had two shows going: one while the camera was rolling, and the other while it was off. The things I did on the show were illusion and magic that I’d picked up and practiced hard over the years. I was a pretty fair stage magician, and combined it with my martial arts to make a show. I performed magic to get new students in my martial arts classes, and to pull myself up out of the hole of my childhood. It’s as simple as that.
— In news footage of you from the time, one could squint and think they were watching Bruce Lee. It seems like there wasn’t the time for you, at 21, to become such an adept martial artist. Did you start training young, or just pick it up quickly?
Regarding Bruce Lee: When I was six years old, I visited my father in a jail cell where he was on the chain gang. On the jailhouse television was Bruce Lee in ‘Fists of Fury’ beating up Bob Baker with fists so fast… I just stared, and memorized. I thought, if I can get that fast nobody can beat me again, or beat on my brother and sister. We had all suffered terrible abuse. At first, I practiced martial arts for hundreds of hours in the woods along the Savannah River. So, I’m self taught originally. Then, over the years, I trained with many grandmasters. Ed Parker was like a father to me, and I learned hardly imagined martial arts moves (note: Parker was karate teacher to, among others, Chuck Norris and Elvis). I also trained with Wayne Fray, Brandon Lee, the White Brothers and others. I eventually met Bob Baker, who became Bruce Lee’s historian, and Lee’s family and his wife. It all began with me and Bruce Lee on TV. If anyone tells you you’re a nobody, don’t listen. You can become a somebody. Just put your mind to it. Never say never.
— As your legend started to grow, did you ever hear a tall tale about something you were supposed to have done with your powers that surprised even you?
The most surprising thing to me that grew out of proportion was in Egypt when the big wind came up from out of nowhere. I believe it was a coincidence, but others who witnessed it called it supernatural. I can’t judge, except to say that it happened. The Muslims thought it was supernatural and many of them feared me for it. All this was covered in the news around the world. The Egyptian government wanted to hustle me out of the country before I got assassinated.
Part II to follow soon, where we’ll learn the truth of the tale where James Hydrick terrified the police by using his mind-powers to damn-near rock a prison van right off the road.