Richard Turner’s stage name is The Cheat, and for good reason: you could never beat him in a card game unless he let you. For him, it’s just a footnote that he’s completely blind.
“I started losing my sight when I was nine. Then during my teens and twenties, my vision was what’s called 20/400. Legally blind is 20/200, so I was twice as low as what’s considered legally blind in the State of California and then the degeneration continued until the point where the retinas were completely destroyed,” says Turner. “And so now I have no actual vision.”
But losing his sight didn’t slow down Turner at all. He started practicing with cards obsessively in his teens — often for 10 to 20 hours in a single day — and never stopped.
“Obsessed is an understatement,” says Turner. “When I’m in a car, my card table’s on my lap. When I’m walking around, I always have cards in my hand. So I was able to practice in just about every scene and situation that you could imagine, because cards are small.”
Now, he’s considered one of the best card mechanics in the world. He’s performed all over the world, on television, and was inducted in The Magical Castle’s Hall of Fame.
When Turner was first sent to a school for the visually impaired, he was rebellious. He refused to learn braille and never has. Instead of using a cane, he holds hands with his wife or has others place a hand on his shoulder so that he can be discretely guided. It works so well, he says, that people often don’t notice he’s blind.
“He’ll do shows and people will have no idea that he can’t see. I know a lot of that’s skill because they’re in awe and a good portion of that is that he’s an excellent performer, and he knows how to draw the people in, and he knows how to manipulate them to where he wants their attention to go,” says Turner’s wife, Kim. When people finally do realize he’s blind, she says, “they’re just flabbergasted.”
Now, Turner says that losing his sight is what drove him to become such a skilled card performer. If working with cards hadn’t become such an enormous challenge, he probably would have taken a different path.
“When I first thought of losing my sight, I was mad, but it turned out to be a gift from above,” says Turner. “When I look at my life, sixty years later, I realize that provided me the ability to reach my goal of becoming a card performer, card shark, card mechanic, card magician, whatever you want to call it.”
A documentary about Turner’s life called “Dealt” is scheduled for release next spring. Visit the film’s website for more information.