Criss Angel was born Christopher Nicholas Sarantakos on Dec. 19, 1967. His parents, John and Dimitra Sarantakos, raised him and his two brothers, Costa and J.D., in East Meadow, N.Y., on Long Island.
Angel credits his work ethic to his father, who was a successful restaurant and doughnut shop owner. John Sarantakos, who, like Criss, was dedicated to personal fitness, died from cancer in 1998.
Criss Angel with Lucky the Rabbit
Angel was bit by the magic bug at the age of 7 when his aunt Stella taught him a card trick. "From that day on, I was hooked," he said. "I felt this incredible sense of power that an adult didn't understand how it worked, but I did."
Within a few short years, his illusion skills were honed to the point that he began giving shows, first for tips only and later for a fee. His first paid appearance was at the age of 12, at a neighbor's birthday party. His fee: $10.
Even from a young age, Angel lived and breathed performance magic. "Throughout my childhood and into my early teen years, I regularly made the trek from our home in Long Island, New York, to Manhattan, to go on auditions and go-see's," he said.
He has admired master magician Harry Houdini since he was a child.
At the age of 14, Angel was performing weekly at area bars and restaurants. He was a regular at the Long Island wine bar and restaurant, the Wine Gallery, where he said he "could easily clear a hundred dollars on a good night" on tips alone.
It was around that time that he achieved his first major illusion: He made his mother float in the family den.
Higher education wasn't in the cards for Angel following graduation from East Meadow High.
"My parents knew that college was not in my future," he said.
"The thought of my becoming a professional magician was unbearable for them," Angel said. "They had hoped their three sons would go to college and become doctors or lawyers — but not a magician!"
Angel claims he continued his education on his own after graduation. "I spent endless hours reading books at the library, studying magicians and their legacies," he said.
Though he never attended any traditional post-secondary institutions, Angel honed his craft on the road as he traveled with other performing acts. "It was a practical education, not a formal one," he said.
The master illusionist married longtime girlfriend JoAnn Winkhard in 2002. The couple filed for divorce five years later, and it has yet to be finalized.
Holly Madison (center), Criss Angel and the requisite bunny, at the Playboy Club.
Since being served with divorce papers, Angel has been romantically linked to a range of beautiful and high-profile women, including Cameron Diaz, Minnie Driver, Fiona Apple, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Pamela Anderson and Holly Madison.
Angel found himself in hot water in 2008 following a run-in with Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Norm Clarke. The two got into a shouting match outside the Planet Hollywood casino after Angel's then-girlfriend, Miss Nevada 2008 Veronica Grabowski, failed to advance to the finals of the Miss USA pageant.
Clarke had reported in his April 11 column that Angel made inappropriate comments to preliminary Miss USA pageant judge Sandy Mecca. Clarke quoted Mecca, who is married to Planet Hollywood CEO Mike Mecca, as saying Angel pressured her to give Grabowski good marks. In the column, Mecca stated she was uncomfortable after Angel approached her April 8 after the judging had taken place, and said, "I hope you're going to give my girl high marks."
Angel and Clarke's heated exchange happened the day after Clarke's column was published. During the argument, Angel repeatedly called Clarke, "A f--king idiot," before he warned Clarke, who wears an eye patch, not to "ever write another word about me, or you'll need an eye patch over your other eye."
Angel also gave NBC cameras the middle finger that day as they filmed outside Planet Hollywood.
Clarke's account of the events can be found here. Grabowski didn't make the semifinals and Miss Texas Crystle Stewart was crowned Miss USA.
Angel's first major series of magic shows were witnessed in 1998 at the World Of Illusion convention at Madison Square Garden. He repeatedly performed the same 10-minute show over and over again, every day of the 12-day convention.
"I was exhausted at the end of the run," Angel said. "This was definitely one of those things that I had no idea what I was signing up for when I agreed to do 60 shows a day."
His next major break came in 2001 when his off-Broadway show, "Criss Angel Mindfreak," began its run at The World in The World Underground Theater in Times Square.
Despite landing the permanent show, Angel said he continued to work hard and do double-duty to ensure it was a success. "I was the man under the baseball cap and dark sunglasses passing out flyers," he said. "I had to get the word out, so when I wasn't performing, I was promoting."
By the time the show closed on Jan. 6, 2003, Angel had given more than 600 performances.
After the off-Broadway show wrapped, Angel moved from New York to Las Vegas, where he turned his attention to his next project: a TV series.
Criss Angel, at work on his upcoming season of Mindfreak on A&E.
Angel's popular television show, "Criss Angel Mindfreak," premiered on A&E on July 20, 2005. Most of the show's episodes are shot in and around Las Vegas: The first two seasons were largely shot in and around the Aladdin Hotel (which has since become Planet Hollywood) while most of the third and fourth seasons were shot at Angel's current home, the Luxor. The show also regularly features other famous Vegas landscapes such as the Fremont Street Experience, Lake Mead and nearby desert areas.
"Mindfreak" airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays. Episodes are generally 30 minutes, although hour-long specials are common. The show is not available in high-definition. "Mindfreak" is scheduled to run for at least two more seasons.
The current (fourth) season premiered July 23, 2008, and includes three hour-long specials in addition to 15 regular 30-minute episodes.
The show was created by and is directed by Angel, and is produced by Angel Productions Inc. and The Firm, the talent agency that manages Angel's career.
After more than a year of talks and negotiations, Angel joined forces with Cirque du Soleil in 2006 to start working on a Las Vegas-based spectacular aptly titled "Believe."
Angel often tells his fans that anything is possible if they believe — in themselves, in magic, in life. "Believe" is also the code word Angel's idol, Houdini, gave his wife in case anyone attempted to contact him in the afterlife.
Several impostors attempted to — and claimed to — conjure Houdini's ghost, but none conveyed the secret code word. Houdini's wife eventually revealed the code word after several failed attempts.
"Criss Angel Believe" premiered on the 82nd anniversary of Houdini's death.
The $100-million show blends Angel's illusions with the extravagant costumes and world-class choreography that have become synonymous with the Cirque du Soleil name.
The project was a joining of the minds for Angel and the show's other co-writer, prolific Cirque director Serge Denoncourt.
Angel's contract with Cirque will see him perform five nights a week for the next 10 years, with a possible five year extension option after that.
Criss Angel, "Believe" choreographer Wade Robson and Wade's wife, Amanda.
In all, Angel will give more than 5,200 performances over the next decade to as many as 15,943,200 people.
"Believe" performances will take place at the heart of the Luxor in a specially built, 1533-seat theater. Tickets range in price, from $59 to $150, before taxes.
The show involves 22 costumed cast members in addition to dozens of crew members behind the scenes.
According to Cirque's official synopsis, Angel stars as a "surreal, enigmatic Victorian noble." The cast navigates the baroque theater of Criss' mind, resulting in "a high-energy visual feast, punctuated by moments of grace and sensuality."
"Unlike traditional magic-themed shows, 'Criss Angel Believe' transcends any preconceived notion of what it means to be emotionally engaged by the arts of mysticism and illusion," it states.
Cirque's sixth Vegas-based show was delayed several times before opening Oct. 31, 2008. Originally scheduled to begin previews on Sept. 1 before a public opening on Sept. 12, organizers in late June were forced to delay the premiere because of apparent "technical difficulties."
Later, "enormous complexities and technical precision" were cited as the schedule was pushed back a second time. The second delay was announced Sept. 2, just 10 days before previews were expected to begin.
Instead of pushing the entire schedule back, however, organizers simply canceled the first two weeks of preview performances.
A third and final delay pushed the Oct. 10 premiere back to Friday, Oct. 31. Since the opening date of preview performances wasn't changed, the third schedule change effectively restored the two weeks of sneak-peek shows that were axed earlier that month.
Angel blamed the technical delays on changes and difficulties related to heightened fire codes and bylaws that were brought in following the January 2008 Monte Carlo hotel fire.
He said new bylaws required changes be made to the theater, while increased safeguards were brought in, as well. While Angel said he, Cirque and Luxor fully supported the increased precautions, he said the additional measures delayed production substantially.
"Criss Angel Believe" opened for preview performances Sept. 26, before it was unveiled Oct. 31 during an extravagant Halloween-night gala.
Angel's on-screen experience isn't limited to his successful A&E series. He played "Luke Blade" in Episode 18 of "CSI: New York's" third season. The episode, titled "Sleight Out of Hand," aired Feb. 28, 2007.
In the episode, Angel plays a murderous magician who kills his victims in ways eerily similar to the death-defying illusions he showcases in his act. Angel performed three illusions on the show: sawing a person in half, setting himself on fire and submerging himself in water.
Angel also appeared on screen Oct. 24, 2007, in an episode of NBC's "Phenomenon." The show involves contestants who are competing for the title of "Next Great Mentalist" and Angel served as a judge alongside fellow illusionist, Uri Geller.
During the show the contestant, paranormalist Jim Callahan, claimed to summon the spirit of author Raymond Hill and ask the spirit to reveal the contents of a locked box for his "Phenomenon" audition.
While Geller applauded Callahan's performance, Angel wasn't impressed. He called Callahan's act "comical" and challenged both Callahan and Geller to use their paranormal powers to determine the contents of two envelopes that he pulled from his pocket.
Angel offered to give $1 million of his own money to the person who successfully predicted the envelopes' contents.
This unscripted "stunt" infuriated Callahan and Geller. A shouting match soon ensued and Callahan called Angel an "ideological bigot." As the argument escalated it became increasingly physical and security guards struggled to separate the two men. The live broadcast then abruptly cut to commercial.
Angel later revealed the contents of one of the two envelopes: an index card with "911" written on it. He explained how, "If on 9-10 somebody could have predicted that 9-11 was going to happen, they could have saved thousands of lives."
The personal attacks continued after the revelation. Callahan implied Angel was blasphemous and suggested the "Mindfreak" illusion where Angel walks on water was "his way of proving Jesus Christ wasn't real."
Callahan also said, "Every Christian in the world should be angry with him."
Angel is slated to appear in a film adaptation of the Lee Falk comic, "Mandrake the Magician." He will play the character of Mandrake's father, Theron, who is the headmaster of the College of Magic and the guardian of the mind crystal. While no production dates have been announced, shooting is expected to begin in 2009.
Angel published "Mindfreak: Secret Revelations," on April 24, 2007. The 295-page book details the early beginnings of his career, memorable demonstrations from his TV show and personal reflections. "Secret Revelations" also contains several pictures and provides step-by-step instructions for 40 of his basic Mindfreaks.
Laura Morton helped the magician write the book, which has since been named a Los Angeles Times bestseller.
Angel has four independent musical releases, including one three-disc set, on APITRAG Records: "Musical Conjurings from the World of Illusion" (1998); the "Trilogy" three disc set (2000); "Mindfreak" (2002); and "Criss Angel Mindfreak" (2006).