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David Copperfield to testify about magic trick that left participant with thousands in medical bills

A British tourist said he suffered a traumatic brain injury after volunteering for the magician's "Lucky #13" trick at a 2013 show.
by Erik Ortiz /
Image: David Copperfield
Illusionist David Copperfield during opening statements in a civil trial at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas on April 13, 2018.Michael Quine / Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP

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All eyes will be on magician David Copperfield when he takes the stand in response to a civil lawsuit brought by a man who says he slipped and suffered a traumatic brain injury during a stage trick five years ago.

The trial has already put Copperfield, 61, in an uncomfortable spotlight after the illusion in question — known as "Lucky #13" — was revealed in a Las Vegas court by attorneys Friday. Copperfield could testify as soon as Tuesday, when the trial resumes.

British tourist Gavin Cox, 58, said he was at a Copperfield show at the MGM Grand Resort and Casino for his birthday in 2013 when he was randomly plucked from the audience for the vanishing act — part of the grand finale.

Benedict Morelli, an attorney for Cox, said in an opening statement Friday that his client didn't realize what he was in for and was told during the trick, "'Stand up, come with me.' And Mr. Cox describes it as a rabbit coming out of a rabbit hole."

Morelli added that Cox was never warned that he could be injured in the illusion and wouldn't have taken part if he knew the risks.

In "Lucky #13," the 13 participants were seated onstage inside a suspended cage, according to attorneys. Then, a curtain was drawn completely around the cage to cover them.

After a few moments, the curtain was pulled off and the participants were no longer on stage — only to reappear suddenly at the back of the audience.

Some 55,000 people have been selected to take part in the act over the past decade that Copperfield has performed it, and there were no previous issues, the magician's lawyer said.

But Morelli claimed the audience didn't see the "chaos" that occurred behind the scenes. The participants were hurried out of their seats while the curtain was up and ushered through a secret passage of hallways and an outdoor area that led them back into the theater. It was then that Cox said he fell.

The route was dark and unfamiliar to the participants, who also had to contend with an incline and general dust and debris from construction, Morelli said. Parts of the MGM Grand were under renovation when the fall happened, he added.

Jerry Popovich, MGM Grand's attorney, told the jury that Cox simply missed a step when he fell. He explained that the site where the accident happened, about 22 feet before the door to re-enter the theater, is essentially level with only a 1-degree drop.

Popovich said that 10 minutes before Cox went down, Copperfield had walked through that same area as part of another illusion that did not involve audience participation. He said Copperfield would have notified staff if he had noticed any problem in the route.

Cox was taken to the hospital with a dislocated shoulder. After returning to Britain, where he worked as a chef, Cox said he suffered chronic pain and a scan showed a lesion on his brain.

Cox said in his lawsuit that he has spent more than $400,000 on medical care and treatment. He is suing Copperfield, as well as MGM Grand and the construction crew.

Copperfield — worth about $61.5 million, according to Forbes — initially argued that the portion of the trial that revealed the secrets behind the "Lucky #13" trick should have been closed to the public. His lawyers said that exposing the tricks of Copperfield's trade would be bad for business.

But the judge sided with the plaintiff's team, which said the mechanics behind this particular illusion are already known to the thousands of audience members who have participated.

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