Missing My Best Friend: Norm Nielsen Passed Away Today


Norm Nielsen and the Poster Collection
In twenty five years Norm amassed one of the most extraordinary vintage magic poster collections in the world Photo credit Zakary Belamy

The last time I posted in this blog, was about Norm’s recent admittance in a memory care facility.

Due to the quarantine procedures from the Wuhan Coronavirus, I have not seen Norm in exactly two and half weeks.

I’m sorry to report to all my friends and fellow magicians that Norm passed away, suddenly, today April 21, 2020 at 7:30 am. 🙁

Fortunately, he was at an excellent memory care facility, surrounded by a compassionate staff. Alas! He would not be with any members of his family.

A Brief Biography of Norm Nielsen

Norm Nielsen was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin on February 17, 1934 at 8:35 am. His parents were: Albert and Meta Nielsen.

He became hooked on magic at age 10 when his father took him to see a barber who loved to perform magic. Herman was his name.

Norm would hang out with Herman, who had a penchant of going to bars and drinking on the weekends. He would sometimes get free drinks by performing for the patrons. He never revealed to Norm the secrets of his magic, yet through observation, Norm started learning quite a bit. Eventually, Norm would go to his first magic convention where he met his idol, Neil Foster, who learned from and was a teacher at the Chavez School of Magic in California.

Norm decorating a cake
Norm was supposed to become a baker He left home to become a magician instead

Norm’s father was a baker. During his teenage years he worked with his dad at the bakery, making bread and decorating cakes for their many customers.

Imagine the disappointment of his father when Norm announced that he was moving to California to learn magic and become a magician! Like Neil, Norm learned his craft at Chavez and helped teach there for a little while.

Eventually, he moved back to Kenosha, where he opened Nielsen Magic in 1956. At that time Norm was your regular 50 miler magician, who performed in the area, owned his little magic shop, and would build magic tricks to sell others. In the early sixties, he met Johnny Thompson, and through their collaboration, they came up with clever effects: Bottle through Table, Flower to Silk, and because they were both dove workers, they created the Nielsen Vanishing Dove Cage. One of his biggest clients was Magic, Inc., in Chicago, owned and operated by Jay and Frances Marshall.

Norm Nielsen in the early days performing Zombie.
This photo was taken in the early days when the violin was a giant Zombie Ball

Initially, Norm performed a manipulation and dove act, which including the Zombie Ball effect. Throughout the years in his effort to be different, his Ball became his famous and signature Floating Violin that we know of. The first attempts at the Floating Violin were made in 1966.

His big break was a few years later when Jay Marshall, arranged an audition with Mark Leddy – the booker for the Ed Sullivan Show. After his appearance in that show, the entire world opened to him. He had one of the most successful careers as a performing magician for the next three decades. He worked all over Europe, Asia, Latin American and South Africa. For nearly seven years, he worked at the Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris. He also appeared in probably fifty different television programs around the world.

Norm Nielsen, Magician Extraordinaire

Norm Nielsen and his Floating Violin
Norm and his signature Floating Violin Photo credit Anne White

Norm has probably won every single award given in the magic world: He had all the major awards from the Academy of Magical Arts: Stage Magician of the Year, Magician of the Year and a Performing Fellowship; the Jack Gwynne Award, SAM Hall of Fame, Milbourne Christopher Awards, Chavez, and the list goes on and on.

During all this time in the 1970’s he briefly sold his business to another builder and magic shop operator. Because it wasn’t well managed, so he bought it back in the mid-1980s when he settled back in the Unites States.

In 1990, he started becoming a magic collector of vintage posters. At that time he still had an active performing career, but opted to take care of his business and the posters.

By now he had three careers: Performing magic; buying, selling and trading vintage magic posters; and manufacturing magic.

Meeting Lupe Nielsen

Norm and Lupe Nielsen
Norm and Lupe Nielsen Photo credit Kari Hendler

I met Norm in 1989 for the first time, and eventually came into his life in 1995. My background in magic, props, working in magic shops, and love for magic history, were all handy with the relationship I would have with Norm for the next twenty-five years. We practically had everything in common, except for our age difference.

I am not the marrying type, yet, three years later, we did tie the knot. Lol!

The last twenty-five years were rich and active for us. I joined him in his business and helped him in every aspect of it. My main talent was to keep track of the details. His talent was his vision and passion for the magic and the posters. We both performed – he specializing in his exquisite and legendary Musical Magic Act – I did my close-up and parlor magic. We complimented each other in the building of magic, and supported each other in the acquisition and collection of posters, to the point where we acquired one of the largest vintage magic poster collections in the world.

He would retire his act in 2008, but would actively continue in the business.

Alzheimer’s and His Final Day

Unfortunately, fate would take place and in late 2015 he would be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Even during his Alzheimer’s days, he was the most gentle and wonderful human being to have around. Up until recently, we used to be in the house together, and would go out with friends, and be actively social. His sense of humor was always present, and he always did his best to make you smile and laugh.

Earlier today, at 8:10 am, I got a call from the memory care facility where he resided. He started coughing at 6:45 am, and was unresponsive a few minutes later. While the staff was administering CPR, they called 911. The paramedics arrived at 7:05 am and did everything to revive him. Unfortunately, Norm did not make it. He passed away at approximately 7:30 am.

Due to the quarantine, I never had a chance to visit or say good-bye. I did get reports here and there from the staff at his facility, who were wonderful people. I spoke to him two days ago, and told him that we would be moving him to another home where I was allowed to visit (the move would have been this morning, by the way). I tried calling him yesterday, but he was asleep, after an active day of the various activities they had at the home.

He is now gone… Forever…

What Is Next, You Might Ask?

I have already made arrangements for Norm’s body to be autopsied and then cremated. I felt the need for an autopsy, to give me closure as to the reason of his sudden death. He was full of life yesterday, and just suddenly, he died this morning.

Once the ashes are received, I will make a nice final resting place for them. I will attempt to use all my woodworking skills to see if I can make an urn worthy of Norm.

When this pandemic is over and people can gather, we will plan a Celebration of Life Memorial for Norm Nielsen here in Las Vegas.

His wishes were to be interred in the magic cemetery in Colon, Michigan. Eventually, we plan to have another Memorial for his interment at that location.

Time for Gratitude and Mourning

Norm lived a great life, fully independent, and accomplished everything he put his mind into. He did live in his own terms and left as such. In a way I am happy that except for the dementia, he did not convalesce in a bed for long. He was here one day, and then suddenly was gone! His passing was quick and in the way all of us would like to leave this world.

I guess the next step for me will be to learn to live without my best friend. After twenty-five years, I honestly don’t know what I am going to do, or where I stand in the bigger scheme of things. I do have handicaps of my own, which I have to confront and those are for me to bear. Nielsen Magic, though, will continue business as usual. That is probably the biggest inheritance that Norm has given me.

The good thing is that God has given me infinite curiosity and many interests, and I will eventually find my little place in the world. I also have deep Faith and know that things always happen for a reason and I will never be alone.

THANK YOU ALL – our friends and customers – for all your support through the years. It is because of you that Norm and I have had a reason for being.

Norm Nielsen Poster
This is Norms last poster painted and designed by Igor Edelman

Norm Nielsen is survived by his wife, Lupe Nielsen, and his two daughters, Jenna and Alexandra Nielsen.

– Lupe Nielsen
(April 21, 2020)