Harry Houdini (nee Edel Weiss) was the greatest magician, escape artist, and stunt performer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He had a successful career right from the start, largely because of his wife Bess's willingness to assist in his act and ignore his obsession with his mother.
His career really took off, though, when he accidentally got locked in a trunk while performing "Metamorphosis" and realized that the audience was more interested in the possibility that he might suffocate than in the original illusion. He reworked his act into an exhibition of escapology, sometimes escaping from handcuffs, ropes, straightjackets, solid cement, a vat of acid, and a great white shark, all in one show (though not all at the same time, more's the pity).
Later in life, Houdini developed a passion for debunking spiritualists. It was Houdini's great experience with magic that allowed him to reveal as frauds those who, for example, performed simple card tricks and used them as proof that they had aid from the land of the undead.