Sunday, September 17, 2017

Escape Artist Steve Baker, aka Mr. Escape, Has Died

My friend and mentor, Steve Baker has passed away. He died at 11:11pm on Saturday Sept 16th, 2017 at his home in Illinois. His wife Julie, who was his faithful assistant throughout his career was by his side when he passed. Steve had been ill for quite a long time, but recently suffered several mini strokes which he did not recover from.

In the 1970s and 80s, Steve Baker was all over TV with his fabulous escapes. His career started a few years earlier when he hung upside down in front of the Tribune Tower Building in Oakland CA to recreate Houdini's Upside Down Strait Jacket Escape. Steve freed himself from the jacket in record time and it began his full time career in 1967.

Steve was known professionally as Mr. Escape. You might wonder where he got the name from? Well, the name had been used briefly by Steranko. According to Steve Baker, he asked Steranko if he could use it. A little known fact, when Steve Baker did his Tribune Tower Escape he was known as The Great Gerhart, so he was in need of a good stage moniker. 

Steve was a favorite of Dick Clark the TV celebrity and producer. In the 70s, Dick Clark invited Steve to present many daring escapes on his various TV shows. His very first was on Dick Clark LIVE Wednesday on NBC. Steve presented a thrilling version of Houdini's Water Torture Cell Escape.  He followed that appearance up with his Coffin of Death, and then a return visit had him doing a Double Hanging Strait Jacket Escape. Steve also did a challenge escape from a device created by one of the home viewers.

In the 1980s, Dick Clark had a show in CBS called Dick Clark LIVE, and Steve was again, brought on to do numerous escapes. Among those was his Tug of War Rope Tie, his Water Tank of Death, and a very thrilling original escape he called Death Race.

Despite his ability to free himself from anything, his life was not always so carefree. A freak accident while performing the Coffin of Death for the International Brotherhood of Magicians Convention, left him with severe burns on his hands.

In the mid 1990s, Steve was hit by a car in the parking lot of a grocery store which brought about numerous complications. Imagine that, the guy who had been chained to cars and was able to free himself, was hit by a car when not even chained. Life has an ironic way of playing out sometimes.

Though he tried to restart his career following this, it never really came back. He appeared on one episode of MindFreak and later was escape consultant for Andrew Basso on a TV Special  he was doing in Italy. Privately, Steve and I worked on some things we were going to do but his health gradually deteriorated until he was unable to perform anymore.

Steve had a love/hate relationship with the Escape Community. He had bitter rivalries with a number of escape artists. Probably the most prominent feud was with Norman Bigelow. Most people were unaware however that the two were good friends and respected each other greatly. Though the feud was real at one point in their lives, they preferred to keep it going publicly because they were hoping to face each other in an escape contest. All the details were worked out, but Steve's health and frankly his financial situation prevented it from eventually happening.  But please know, in the end the two finished their lives as fast friends.

This was not the case with others in the escape world. Steve Baker could hold a grudge, lol. And for now, I won't mention those other people. I think he was more connected to the Magic Community than any where else because he began his career as a magician. Most people are unaware that Steve did comedy magic for a long time, and he also had a mentalism act.

Steve Baker remained in the care of his loving wife Julie for the past several years. He lived a very private and secluded life. He no longer had email or internet access, and only a couple people even had his phone number. He preferred to be left alone I believe. When he lived in California,  I used to talk to Steve several times per week. Then when he moved back to Illinois, it was a couple times a month, then once a month, and after his stint in a nursing home rehab, it became several times a year. He always seemed to remember me when I called, but his short term memory had issues. He could remember things from long ago, but remembering things in the short term was a struggle for him.

He was one interesting character. For those who knew him, the regular every day Steve Baker, he was a super nice guy. He was not ego-driven like his on stage persona. His onstage character had the same bravado as Houdini.  In the end, he was just a performer who wanted desperately to get back out there in front of audiences because that is what he enjoyed most, entertaining people.  Life and health just got in his way. RIP my old friend, there surely will not be another like you.


4 comments:

  1. Uncle Steve, you will be missed. They just don't make 'em like you anymore. Thank You, for all the thrills and excitement. Sincerely,
    your oldest nephew ~Craig

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  2. I thought his greatest escape was when they tossed Steve Baker/Mr. Escape, out of an airplane with a straight jacket on that he had to get out of before he could open his parachute. It was on Dick Clark's Live Wed Night's. I wish I could find that footage. It scared me to death. I was with him when he did Coffin Of Death in Long Beach, during the International Brotherhood of Magicians Convention.
    ~ Craig Beaudry Sr.
    (Steve's oldest nephew)

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  3. Thanks Steve you got me and my Sister tickets to the US Festival, back in 1983. You introduce this to your good friend Dick Clark and many other stars. But most of all you are a great uncle to us. He would come over to our house and we would tie him up with our friends of course and always to our astonishment he would get out. We would invite our friends over to watch him do all these acts. He would offer anyone a crisp $100 bill if they could hold their breath longer than 3 minutes. Can't tell you how hard we all tried. I'm sorry we grew old and when our separate ways to live our lives to raise our families. You will always hold a special place in my heart how long was here beautiful lovely wife Julie. Love Merle(Corky)

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  4. Sorry you should always proofread your crap before you submit.... That last line should have read.... as will you're beautiful and lovely wife Julie. love Merle

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