Family, friends, and fans were saddened today by the passing of John Edward Szeles, known in the entertainment world as "The Amazing Johnathan". The outlandish comedy magician was sixty-three years old and had been battling health issues for an extended time. Always unconventional, Johnathan shocked a live audience in 2014 when he announced a terminal illness and his expectation to die within a year.
The Las Vegas resident, who passed away in his home last evening, was familiar to millions through his appearances on Comedy Central and Criss Angel - Mindfreak. He had performed in and around the Las Vegas Strip for thirteen years and was closely associated for most of that time with entertainer Penny Wiggins (current host of BIG Little Variety Show at Alexis Park Resort).
Szeles described himself as the "Freddy Krueger of Comedy". His acts featured an abundance of gore and sideshow stunts that depicted self-mutilation. Always reveling in the macabre, The Amazing Johnathan built a reputation for hosting stunning Halloween parties and eerily elaborate gatherings. He channeled that talent into a themed attraction for downtown Las Vegas named "The Screamont Experience". The escape room-style maze, built within the darkened recesses of Las Vegas Club hotel-casino, frightened visitors during the Halloween season of 2012.
Numerous fans, friends, and colleagues took to social media today to share their memories and respect for Mr. Szeles. Here are a few:
"So sad to hear former Strip headliner/comedian, the Amazing Johnathan died last night. He and his sidekick, the beautiful Penny Wiggins were among my very first friends when I moved to Las Vegas. Countless dinners, water volleyball, driving around in his classic cars, and host to the best Halloween parties that sent you home with nightmares. Thanks for all the laughs. RIP Johnathan Szeles" - Claudine Grant, Venetian Resort
"Amazing Johnathan was exactly that. I’ve never met someone that was so funny. Almost every word he said could get you to laugh. I mourned him years ago when he was SUPPOSED to die… but didn’t. It seemed like he’d never go. He out-lived so many. He lived his life exactly how he wanted to. On his terms. I have so many stories and memories, all of which I’ll cherish forever. Thanks for being kind and generous to me, thanks for the friendship, the laughs, and thanks for taking me to the Cheesecake Factory so many times. I wish I could’ve said goodbye and told you what an honor it was to know you." -- entertainer Brett Loudermilk
"Dad and I first saw AJ in the late '90s at the Golden Nugget. If you can make my dad laugh so hard he cries, you're alright in my book. RIP Amazing Johnathan." - blogger Kristopher Kidd
"Rest easy, Amazing Johnathan. I finally met Johnathan in 2014 (I think it was) at an event where he was a guest speaker. I learned his whole story and watched in awe as his presence there was defying the odds. What a story and life he had! A great loss to Las Vegas and the entertainment community." - entertainer Kate Gordon
"My love for comedy & magic was always from watching David Copperfield & The Amazing Jonathan as a kid. I still remember watching him on “Hey Hey It’s Saturday” with my Dad. Thank you for making me laugh. Thank you for letting me have one of those laughs to share with others. Rest In Peace, you amazing psychopath." - magician Christopher Blaine
"RIP Amazing Johnathan (Johnathan Szeles). A Comedy Mentor and Friend for over 35 years. You will be deeply missed." - comedian Geechy Guy
"As some of you may know, The Amazing Johnathan passed last night on 2/22/22. We will miss him very much. As some of you may not know, our CEO was very close friends with Jonathan, and with the help of what we do at Burlycares Organization, he was able to move forward comfortably and with people who loved him. We have a mission here with BurlyCares, and although it can be tough, it is extremely needed and rewarding. So thank you so much for your donations. You are helping the Artist community here, and around the world, with your love & support for this amazing art form". - Ilissa Mayrose
"I’ll post more later when I find the right words. You’ll be missed greatly. You were an inspiration and dear friend. RIP Johnathan" - entertainer Mike Hammer
Kevin Lepine and Johnathan
"The performer was only a fraction of the man. He loved to laugh. While he loved telling jokes and pulling pranks, he loved hearing them as well. He loved to watch people perform and laugh at jokes he hadn’t heard. He knew how to play, really play. He approached everything with a childlike wonder and found joy in so much. He spread that sense of joy to everyone around him. He will always be a part of my heart. Rest In Play." - entertainer Kevin Lepine
"When I moved to Las Vegas 16 years ago, one of the very first shows I went to see was The Amazing Johnathan show with Jonathan Szeles and Penny Wiggins. Soon after they both became my friends. At last night's weekly Tuesday gathering, we were notified moments after Jonathan passed away. We started telling AJ stories. Almost like an impromptu celebration of life gathering with some of his friends. It made the news of his passing a little easier to deal with. When he would attend my weekly gatherings at my house, he loved to play foosball in the game room with anyone willing to take his challenge. The last time I saw AJ was at my Halloween birthday party at my house in October. That is where this photo was taken. AJ was in great spirits and was his usual self, telling dirty, foul jokes. The magic world suffered a great loss, and many of us will miss a good friend." - entertainer Gerry McCambridge
Penny Wiggins and Johnathan, photo by Gerry McCambridge
"He was just big, goofy, prankster---we all called him AJ or just Johnathan. He was amazing because of who he was and what he meant to all of us. Johnathan was always Johnathan. Those who knew him know exactly what I mean when I say that. He could be brash, boisterous, inappropriate and a freaking wild man a lot of the time, but underneath it all was a kind soul and truly a man who deserved the title, "Amazing". I’ll miss you." - deejay Eric Snow
Deejay Eric Snow and Johnathan
Two of Szeles' greatest passions were for classic automobiles and drive-in movie theaters. He combined them into "Amazing Underground", an indoor drive-in located inside the warehouse where his car collection was stored. The entertainer was reportedly working on a memoir, although it is not known whether the text was complete at the time of his passing.
The Amazing Johnathan Documentary - Official Trailer
Although he announced his retirement (along with his illness) in 2014, Amazing Johnathan returned to the stage in 2017 for a comeback series of performances across the United States. Those shows, along with his health condition and the controversy surrounding it, were documented in a movie that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
THE AMAZING JOHNATHAN DOCUMENTARY, an unconventional and sometimes uncomfortable look into Szeles' life, features appearances by Carrot Top, Penn Gillette, and Weird Al Yankovic. Magician/stunt performer Anastasia Synn, who married Johnathan in 2014, also appears in the film, which is currently available on HULU.