The Magician’s Retreat: Searching for Eternal Life on David Copperfield’s Private Island
Montreal-based writer and former VICE editor Adam Leith Gollner is one of those seemingly regular Joes who continually finds himself in strange, almost unbelievable situations. His life has been peppered with many “What the fuck?” moments that might cause you to wonder if you’re wasting your life. (You are.) He attributes this to a natural curiosity, openness, and a constant search for things to write about. I think it’s partly that, and partly some sort of cosmic charisma and weird horseshoe-up-his-ass thing. Either way, when you get an email from Adam asking if you want to visit the private Caribbean island of a world-famous illusionist in search of the fountain of youth, you don’t question it. You just say yes and start packing your bags. This happened to me a few years ago. The story, recounted here, is an excerpt from Adam’s new work, The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever, out this month on Scribner in the US and Doubleday in Canada. —Rafael Katigbak, editor VICE Canada
everal years ago, the magician David Copperfield issued a press release stating he’d discovered the fountain of youth on his private islands in the Bahamas. “We found this liquid that in its simple stages can actually do miraculous things,” Copperfield claimed. “You can take dead leaves, they come into contact with the water, they become full of life again. Bugs or insects that are near death come in contact with the water, they fly away. It’s an amazing thing, very exciting.”
Copperfield had hired biologists and geologists to examine the fountain’s potential effects on humans. Until the tests were carried out, the magician said, he was refusing anyone else access to the water. Its precise location—a spot where “everything is more vibrant, ageless, and full of life”—is a secret.
All I knew was that the fountain was somewhere on one of the 11 Islands of Copperfield Bay, a 700-acre archipelago he’d discovered by drawing a cartographical line from Stonehenge to the statues of Easter Island and another line between the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacán; the lines intersected at the exact latitude and longitude of his Caribbean hideaway. In aerial photographs, the main island resembles a bat with its wings outstretched.
It seemed like a story just waiting to be written, and after a lengthy negotiating period, Copperfield agreed to let me visit for a few days. He was adamant in his refusal to show me the fountain, which he described as “a liquid that reverses genes.”
“You won’t see my wrinkled hand go into a stream and come out young,” he said. “This is not a trick. But if you want to talk about the meaning of the fountain—that, we can do. I speak about the fountain with great verbal aplomb.”
I was fine with that; after all, I’d still be able to sneak out at night and try to find it.
Shortly before the trip, Copperfield suggested I bring someone along. “To be there alone is going to suck,” he explained. “All the experiences on Musha are shared experiences.” I didn’t want to go with my girlfriend, as a 21-year-old beauty-pageant runner-up had accused Copperfield of raping her on the island (the charges were ultimately dropped). Instead, I decided to bring my former bandmate Rafael Katigbak, editor of VICE’s Canadian edition and an amateur magician who as a child idolized David Copperfield. “God, I hope he rapes me,” Raf sighed, faux dreamily, when I filled him in on the allegations. Here’s what happened instead.