Sad news....

James Randi --- Wizard (
Sat, 10 Aug 1996 02:21:47 -0400

I've just been informed that Billie Dunninger, Joe Dunninger's wife,
has died. To those of you who may not know who Joe was, I will tell
you that he was -- in my opinion -- the greatest mentalist who ever
lived. He performed on radio (?) and on TV, as well as doing
full-scale theater shows. A great publicist, he obtained a huge
profile and was written about extensively. I was a close friend of
his, and was privileged to spend many long hours at his New Jersey
home amid his fantastic collection of oriental art. He was always
very helpful, very gracious, and kind to me.

Billie was a saint. She adored Joe, and was always a good hostess to
visitors. She was always able to tell them, gently, when it was time
to go home, though. When Joe came down with Parkinson's Disease, it
was a heavy blow to him in so many ways. His impressive voice
faltered, he shook and trembled so that he could no longer perform.
During this period I took care to visit him often, and though I was
distressed at his infirmity, he seemed to summon up courage enough to
joke at it. The disease, and advancing age, eventually brought him
down, and he spent the last year of his life in a wheelchair.

Through all this, Billie cared for him with great devotion, and would
occasionally call to tell me that in a moment of clarity, Joe had
asked for me. I would always rush out there and sit with her over
endless cups of coffee, in the small kitchen, reminiscing on the
former glory of the man who sat in the next room, doubled over,
mumbling quietly. Perhaps I brought her some comfort.

After Joe died, some scallywags got to Billie and began poisoning her
mind against me. When I'd call, she would be non-commital and
distant. I could never get to sit down with her and reason it all
out, since her family and a certain family friend had talked her into
believing that I was a monster, and they cut off my communication with
her. Nonetheless, I kept tabs on her through others, and heard that
she was doing good things like raising young kids who needed guidance.
She was quite a gal, and I never lost my admiration for her.

I was saddened to hear that Billie eventually was afflicted with
Altzheimer's Disease, and that her daughter moved her out of the old
home and onto a farm. I never spoke to Billie again, and when a
document signed by her was produced during a deposition in one of the
court actions brought against me, I went ballistic. Obviously a
dictated letter executed shakily, the letter accused me of having
stolen a 1667 edition of Nostradamus from Joe's home! The facts are
that the volume had belonged to the Earl of Balfour in England before
I owned it, the provenance was firmly established, and Joe Dunninger
had never owned any edition of Nostradamus. Uri Geller's lawyers
demanded that I produce evidence showing that I properly owned the
book; I promply did so, and the matter was never brought up again.
Why, I wonder? The opposition followed up that maneuver with an
accusation that I was an anti-Semite, but that was so incredible that
when Geller's ONLY witness to the event he described flatly denied it,
this accusation, too, was quietly dropped. Again, why?

To take advantage of Billie Dunninger at a vulnerable point in her
life, was unforgiveable. I cannot forget that act. And I cannot
forgive those who invented this canard -- one of so many -- that
continue to haunt me. How low can one sink?

Billie is gone. She was a formidable woman, a loving wife, and a good
friend. I'll miss her.

James Randi.

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