The Magic of Healing – Magician Bill Jackson Knows It’s Not a Trick


In 1986 Bill Jackson became one of California’s first Project Magic magicians. Founded and designed by famed illusionist David Copperfield, Project Magic is innovative and simple. Patients with various disabilities are taught magic tricks to increase self-esteem, aid healing, and improve dexterity, coordination and visual perception.

“The real magic,” Jackson says, “is to see a patient’s face transform from discouragement and  doubt into a sparkling grin as they actually perform a trick. They are doing something others cannot do and sharing something that gives pleasure to everyone they meet.”

Photo by Jess Alcouffe.

Photo by Jess Alcouffe.

Project Magic teams magicians with occupational therapists at facilities worldwide. The occupational therapist at Oroville Hospital in 1986 was Sandy Slavin; many of her patients had suffered traumatic disabling injuries. To be confronted with boring and repetitious exercises was often very discouraging, especially if recovery times were lengthy. Slavin contacted Jackson about the possibility of using magic as a therapeutic modality.

Jackson signed Oroville Hospital up with Project Magic and became Slavin’s volunteer magician. “We would go over aspects of a patient’s injury and the kinds of physical movement to be practiced,” says Jackson. “I would then develop about six magic tricks requiring that particular kind of motion.

“One of my most memorable patients,” Jackson says, “was a single mother of two young children. After an accident, she only had the use of her non-dominant hand and was having some trouble with that. She also had trouble speaking. Sandy asked if I could find something that would not only help her physically, but also help her connect with her children.” Jackson taught this patient some one-handed tricks. “She was skeptical at first, but as she saw the magic begin, she was delighted to have something to share with her children.”

Jackson was born in Chicago. His love of magic began at about the age of three. His family moved to Oroville in the early 1970s where Jackson soon found himself performing at various fairs, schools and clubs, with, in lieu of a beautiful assistant … his brother John. John gamely allowed himself to be shot in the head with arrows or would disappear for the great cause of prestidigitation and illusion.

“Magic helped pay my way through college,” Jackson says. He attended Butte College and California State University, Chico, where he majored in English and minored in theatre. He also earned multi-subject and a single-subject teaching credentials.

Photo by Jess Alcouffe.

Photo by Jess Alcouffe.

Today Jackson performs at parties, travels with the Kent Family Magic Circus, and offers a school program that promotes reading. He spends much of each summer teaching and performing magic in the Catskills Mountains of New York. When back home in Oroville, he is awakened most mornings by a pet rabbit who jumps on his bed demanding breakfast. After breakfast, Jackson (if not the rabbit) sometimes substitute teaches, but never, he says, without his bag of magic tricks.

David Nigel Lloyd
About David Nigel Lloyd

Folk musician David Nigel Lloyd has performed from California to Britain. For six years he directed education programs for the Arts Council of Kern. He writes about the arts for several publications.

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