S1: Episode 13 - Richard Turner

portrait of Richard Turner

Episode Information

[Intro Music]
Narrator:        Welcome to My Heart is Not Blind. Narrative histories about blindness and perception. A traveling exhibition and book published by Trinity University Press, supported by Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, edited and hosted by Michael Nye. Every person. Every place is a map to somewhere else. Episode 13, Richard Turner.

Richard:              The public does not believe that a blind person can see. See, that’s what bothers me. I don’t see the way you do, but I can see with my fingers, I can see with my mind. I have perception. I can see and feel things other people can’t see and feel. But I see with my emotions. I can feel your emotions. I can see your emotions. I can see color, pattern shapes. That vision that I created is so, so much more beautiful. So beautiful. I got scarlet fever when I was nine. My sister Lori also caused scarlet fever, and she was sick, and we were both, uh, quarantined. Eventually I got better, went back to school, and one day I could see the print on the chalkboard, and the next day I couldn’t. Uh, my mother was kind of heartbroken over it. And, uh, she started crying and just held me.

Um, when the specialist told her that it was a degeneration, the retina was degenerating and that it was gonna continue, and it was not correctible, the kids did start making fun of me. When I started losing my vision. Uh, I did not want to be a weakling. I did not want to be a coward. And I would watch movies like Tarzan and I would be afraid that I would be the, the coward that would fall dramatically to their death. And, uh, at that time, I started doing things. I would get on fences and, you know, tight roping across the top of the fences, across the top of chairs. I’d climb up on the roof of the school building on the weekends and walk around the rim. I was more concerned with conquering the fear within me than I was what I was seeing as I was doing it.

I am a very visual person. I still see colors in ways that people couldn’t even begin to imagine. I love color. Even as I talk with you here, I see thousands of beautiful vivid colors, patterns, images, shapes, all recorded in my subconscious from when I could still see images. And it’s like looking at a kaleidoscope where you’d twist it and it’d have all these different colors moving and undulating around. That’s how I see things day or night as we speak today. When I was young, I fell in love with a character maverick and the things he could do with the cards. I started playing with cards. I became obsessed with playing with cards and playing cards. Uh, I loved it. And then I started getting some attention. Uh, when I was like 19, I started working with people that knew more things about cards and that was fun for me.

When I first started practicing with cards to the present, I’ve logged around 134,000 hours of practice. The average practice day for decades was 10 to 20 hours a day. It never bored me for a second. There’s one move, there’s one move that I do. It’s considered the most difficult of all moves. Nobody else has been able to do it. Uh, I have done that move in front of a live audience over 5 million times. Uh, I had my whole house set up where I could practice wherever I was. When I got married, I had a deck of cards in my pocket, and during the ceremony, I’d have a card palmed in my right hand. I cannot remember a single day that I have not practiced during my adult life. I can’t think of one. I had the privilege of working with a man named Dave Vernon in for over a half a century. He was considered the best in the world with a deck of cards. Now, I couldn’t see what Vernon was describing to me. So what he would do is he would describe to me things in a way he wished they could be done. And then I would put it into my subconscious. I’d break it down piece by piece, and my hands would practice that move 16,000 times. Every four hours I would do that one move over and over and over.

My, my shows can be short. And because of that, I’ve done around a hundred thousand performances and the audience does not know that I’m blind. When they find out about it after the show, it always makes them even more excited and, and it becomes more amazing to them. But I want them to appreciate what they saw on its own level, not because of this, but in spite of this. My limitations are well, the skin on my head, that when I bash into things, it cuts open because I have to protect my hands. So I block with my face and I’ve ran into so many things and cut my face open so badly, so many times that it’s amazing that I don’t look like some old boxer. One of the things I think the public doesn’t understand about people who lost their vision is they think because they can’t see, they can’t perceive. They think you’re stupid. They’ll talk louder to you or they’ll talk slower to you. I think people so depend on what they see for the, for their input, that they minimize our other senses. As Sherlock Holmes once said, you see, but you don’t observe.

I never used the word blind. I don’t even like that word because blind says you can’t see. I can see in my mind’s eye. I can see the light. I can see trees moving when I go underwater, even though my eyes are closed, I see the water as I go down. Uh, I can see with my fingertips, I can see with my ears. I see things that other people can’t even imagine seeing. I can see the wind blow. I can see thought and, and the way I see all of those things are so vivid and colorful and beautiful that I consider myself extremely blessed.

[Outro Music]
Host:           Richard Turner is an original. He’s one of the finest sleight of hand artist who has ever lived. He has entertained and mystified millions of people around the world. When he performs on stage, no one knows he is blind. He says it really doesn’t matter at all. A full feature documentary film Dealt was made about his life and can be seen on Netflix or Amazon. Richard told me to be able to see everything can make us cognitively lazy. The visual sense overpowers and dominates all of our other senses. Richard said, “I think I see much more than everyone else, and I have to make sure I’m not arrogant about it.” Richard, his wife, Kim, his son Asa, all live in San Antonio, Texas. I’ve never met anyone who has a vision like Richard. He has been tested. He’s funny, he’s humble, and he is kind.

Join me next week, two new episodes will be released. Please subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can also go to my website, michaelnye.org/podcast for transcripts, and other information. There are so many ways. Different ways to experience moments to their fullest. Thank you for listening.