Harry Houdini was born Ehrich Weiss on 24 March, 1874, in Budapest, Hungary. Thought of as the originator of escape artistry, Houdini claimed that he could escape from any restraint.
Houdini's rise to fame took several years and his act transformed many times on the way. He was part of a double act first with a work colleague, then his brother ?Dash? and finally Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner ?Bess?, whom he later went on to marry.
Houdini's first successful trick was nothing to do with escapology. He would swallow several needles and a length of thread, regurgitating the needles all threaded. Jonathan has performed his own needle and thread stunt in episode 1 of The Incredible Mr. Goodwin, passing a threaded needle through his nostril and again through the wall of his mouth.
It was Houdini's handcuff act that made him famous. He wasn't the first to perform an act of this type, but it was his presentation and his sheer determination to constantly evolve how it was performed that made him stand out from the rest. He would often conceal keys on him, but he also claimed to be able to open nearly any pair of handcuffs using only a shoelace, which is quite a handy skill to have when you were also tied up and inside a cabinet.
The first time Houdini attempted being buried alive, it almost cost him his life. Houdini was buried, without a casket, under six feet of earth. When he finally managed to break the earths surface he fell unconscious and his assistants had to pull him free. He used a casket in his subsequent attempts.
Houdini died in 1926 at the age of 52, and an element of mystery surrounds his death. He died from peritonitis from a ruptured appendix, and not as commonly believed as a result of performing Chinese Water Torture. It's not entirely impossible that a well-meaning member of the public punched him in the stomach, as he was fond of showing off his ability to take a gut punch, and that punch may have been the trigger that ruptured his appendix.
Something else worth mentioning is that Houdini died on Hallowe?en? and was buried in the coffin he used in his acts.