People Magazine Interview: Part Two

After Falling Under the Spell of Wife Debby, Doug Henning Hopes to Charm Broadway Again

“My friends said there was practically a flash of light,” says Henning, 35. “I had never felt anything like it in my whole life.” The dazzler was Debby Douillard, 27, an abstract painter with bottomless blue eyes who was taking classes at the university and also had just separated from her spouse. She, too, felt Cupid’s bolt: “It was like I blossomed right on the spot.”

They got engaged within the week and wed last December. He still marvels at the sorcery she’s worked on him. “When I perform, I could love a million people,” Henning admits, “but I had trouble loving one person. I would separate love and sex. Debby’s helped me overcome my fear of intimacy.” Her problem was shyness, and Henning’s Rx has been to use her not only in Merlin but also on tour, where she performs as a singer, dancer and his assistant. “I have a tendency to be inward,” says Debby. “Doug’s turning me inside out. Sometimes it’s painful, but it’s a great growing experience.”

Henning’s interest in magic was sparked when, as a 7-year-old in the Canadian city of Winnipeg, he saw a magician levitate a girl on TV. He got a magic kit, and his mother Shirley encouraged him to perform for his two sisters, hoping it would draw him out. He was so shy, he recalls, that “when company came I used to hide in the clothes hamper.” His father, Clarke, an Air Canada pilot, built him a table to perform on, and by 14 he was making $15 a week at parties. At 17, he spent a summer playing nightclubs in Barbados. Then, when he was 21, his father died in a plane crash. He had to use his magic act to earn enough to finish McMaster University, where he majored in psychology. Once he worked a strip joint: “I was real innocent and had never seen a naked woman.”

After graduating in 1970 he decided to “give magic a whirl” before going into medicine. But the next year he suffered a lung collapse, the result of a congenital ailment. In three months he underwent 13 unsuccessful attempts to permanently re-inflate his lungs. He says he lost 35 pounds, became addicted to morphine, the painkiller he was given, and came to realize “there was a chance I was going to die.” Then a 14th try succeeded. “It’s the greatest miracle that I am alive,” he says.

Yup, you guessed it. To be continued tomorrow…

One Comment Add yours

  1. Whitt Smith says:

    Wow!! Hid in the clothes hamper!! What a strange bit of deja vu for me there! We moved to a new town when I was 11, & when the new neighbors came to see us I ALSO hid in OUR clothes hamper!! I was a total introvert who could not converse with ANYONE! Sounds like Doug & I had something in common. Sure wish I’d known this when I met him. Great story! 🙂


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