The bizzare and original comic-magician Amazing Johnathan died at his home in Las Vegas on Tuesday, 2-22-22.
Johnathan (AJ) whose legal name was Johnathan Szeles, passed away about 11:30 p.m. with his wife, the sideshow stunt artist Anastasia Synn, by his side.
Although I enjoyed his performances four times over the years at the Golden Nugget and Sahara, it was after a show at the Koval Theater at Miracle Mile Shops in 2007, I was able to interview him and meet his then sidekick, the kooky Psychic Tanya, Penny Wiggins.
“These shows take the breath out of me,” AJ, obviously tired, wisecracked as he apologized for cutting my time short “Maybe I will need to renegotiate my contract to have more time off.”
Little did he know at the time a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy was in his future. First diagnosed in 2009, as his heart muscle weakened and became more degenerative, doctors told AJ that he only had a year to live. In November 2014, he told an audience at an ENTSpeaks event at Inspire Theater in downtown Las Vegas the sobering news.
He stunned the crowd by stating, “The greatest time of my life was spent here. I made millions of dollars, I have two beautiful houses, and everything came crashing … down. And I was told I have a year to live.”
A single laugh came from the crowd, and A.J. said, “It’s not a joke…So. Um … I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry, but, it’s very scary,” his voice quivered. “My heart is failing. My wife says it failed long ago. But it is actually failing, for real.”
“The last thing I said to him was, ‘I love you, honey, I’ll be with you when you get up from your nap,’ ” his wife Anastasia Synn said almost midnight Tuesday night. “We were feeding him oranges and strawberries. He was so peaceful. He said, ‘Yay!’ He had the most pure and sweetest look on his face.”
Johnathan did not wake up from that nap.
“For the next 36 hours, he was unresponsive,” Synn said. “We spent that time snuggling with him.”
The Las Vegas Journal-Review reported “Synn, Magic Castle official and longtime family friend Erika Larsen, and caregiver Stephanie Castellone of the BurlyCares nonprofit medical assistance organization, were with him at the end. Castellone is herself a performance artist, a contortionist, and was in A.J. and Synn’s wedding in June 2014.”
“I did my best to keep his medicine in his system, clean his foot wounds, do everything a nurse would do and I’m not a nurse. But I loved him so much,” Synn said. “He wanted to pass at home. For the past six months I was begging him to go the hospital, but he absolutely hated going there.”
Born in Detroit on Sept. 9, 1958, Johnathan act was in line with my wicked sense of humor. Before many of his shows a camera would focus on audience members projecting putdowns, bizzare accusations and sick captions. These were definitely adults only performances.
AJ was hands on, inviting unsuspecting members of the audience on stage for saucy humor. If an innocent onlooker was reluctant, he would often go into the audience for a one-on-one routine. I’ve seen him appear to magically swallow his eyeball, skewer his tongue with a spike and take a swig of Windex.
Since the mid-1980s, AJ appeared on “Late Night With David Letterman” and Fox’s “Comic Strip Live.” He was extremely popular on Comedy Central and hosted his own variety specials.
In January 2016, he reunited for a final time with Wiggins, who played Psychic Tanya for more than 15 years, to host a midnight variety performance at Baobab Stage at Town Square.
At the top of the show, Wiggins greeted A.J. with a line he’d actually written, “Weren’t you supposed to be dead two years ago?”
Wiggins, an outstanding comic actress in her own right, cried late Tuesday remembering Johnathan as “the nicest man and one of the funniest people I knew.”
Mac King, currently performing at Excalibur and currently the longest-running headliner on the Strip, posted, “So sad to lose my friend Johnathan, absolutely one of the funniest guys in the world. Thanksgiving will never be the same.” A.J. was a frequent guest at King’s holiday party.
Johnathan is survived by his sisters, Nancy Rogers and Gail McGuire, and his first wife, Sandra Bowing. A.J. had been saddened over the recent death of his mother, Doreen Szeles.
“He was so loved,” his wife said. “I want him to have the biggest celebration, with everyone who loved him tell the stories of the pranks he played on people. There was nobody else like him.”
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