© 2022 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Johnny Fox, Sword Swallower And Connecticut Native, Dead At 64

johnnyfox_flickrlukegordon_171221.jpg
Luke Gordon
/
Flickr

One of America’s most well-known sword swallowers has died.

Johnny Fox was a comedian, a magician and a pickpocket. He grew up in Connecticut and performed at circus sideshows, Renaissance faires and at Coney Island.

But his specialty was doing weird things to his body. Swallowing swords, mostly, but he also drove nails up his nose and ate fire. His biggest claim to fame may have been a Maalox commercial in which he smashed a light bulb with a hammer and started chewing away at the shards.

“Do you occasionally eat things that don’t agree with you and end up with a bad case of heartburn? …Not bad. Could use some salt.”

Fox was a regular at Connecticut’s Renaissance faires, but his home base was Maryland. If you ever caught his act, you know he had a big mouth in more ways than one. He was loud, brash, self-deprecatory and a total riot.

“This is the show you don’t want to miss. I missed it once and I didn’t get paid.”

Fox was also a longtime performer at Coney Island and a collector of circus memorabilia. From 1999 to 2005 he ran a museum in New York City called the Freakatorium devoted to collecting and preserving historic art and artifacts from circus sideshows.

Fox was 64. The cause of death was liver cancer, the New York Times reports.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.