CLEARWATER — Bill Kahn, who has been a magician for seven decades, always has a trick up his sleeve. With some sleight of hand he can make a bird appear from an empty wooden box. He can make a boom box vanish. He can get a 3-foot-long snake he named Vindshield Viper to pick a particular card out of a deck.
But at the age of 91, the Clearwater resident has mastered his favorite trick: making money appear for the local soup kitchen.
Through almost three decades of pulling rabbits out of hats, Kahn has raised nearly half a million dollars for the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen. All of the retiree's earnings go to feed the hungry.
That led Clearwater to award him the key to the city Thursday night.
Mayor Frank Hibbard praised Kahn for "magically changing lives through fundraising" and presented him with a ceremonial key mounted on a plaque. It's a fairly rare honor; the city does this maybe twice a year.
Kahn, who came to City Hall with his wife of 68 years, Muriel, talked of the joy he feels when helping the less fortunate.
These days he has largely given up stage magic. He gives free lectures at libraries in Clearwater, Dunedin and Safety Harbor. He just published Kahncepts, a book about card magic. And he gives magic lessons to private students, a surprising number of whom are retired doctors and lawyers.
Kahn has been performing as a magician since he was a teenager in New York. His magic shows and his talent as a photographer helped him pay for his education in business administration at New York University.
He spent his career first as a photographer for the Army and later as a photographer to the stars. He took shots of many of the most famous celebrities of the '50s, '60s and '70s as a photographer for TV Guide magazine. He also started his own advertising business.
When the Kahns retired and moved to Clearwater in 1980, Kahn knew he wanted to spend his retirement years helping others. He discovered the need at the soup kitchen.
He figures he has done more than 2,000 shows for charity. The late Clearwater Times columnist Bob Henderson wrote about him often.
Kahn also helped persuade local philanthropists such as Jack Eckerd and Arthur Rutenberg to support the soup kitchen.
The walls of his home office are lined with awards for his generosity and letters of commendation from dignitaries, including governors Lawton Chiles, Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist as well as former President Bill Clinton.
Why does he do all this?
"It gives me the most tremendous feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, knowing that I've done something worthwhile."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.