This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
When Bradley Feldstein was 13 or 14 and practicing simple magic tricks at school in Queens, his mother ran an answering service. One of her customers was Jack Adams, a magician. “You must meet my son,” Rosalind Feldstein told her client, and soon Bradley became the magician’s assistant, working for five dollars a show. His future was set.
Bradley Fields, as he called himself, spent the next 55 years honing a career as an illusionist, actor and educator, often using magic to teach math to children.
In April, at home in Washington, he developed a sore throat. “I hope it’s just a cold,” he texted his longtime girlfriend, Stephanie Chaikin, in New York. He died of Covid-19 at MedStar Washington Hospital Center on May 5, Ms. Chaikin said. He was 68.
Mr. Fields was born in Spring Valley, N.Y., on July 24, 1951, the oldest of three children. His father, Robert, was a registered nurse, singer, and actor; his mother became a psychologist.
After apprenticing with Mr. Adams, Mr. Fields earned a B.A. in philosophy in 1973 at what was then the State University of New York at Purchase, then studied acting and directing at the Stella Adler Studio in New York and mime in Paris with Etienne Decroux.
He called his early act the Magic Theater and Illusion Show. Ms. Chaikin said that onstage, Mr. Fields was “an antique guy in a modern world,” appearing in a derby and vest and performing illusions from the vaudeville era: classic tricks with steel rings or handkerchief, dividing an assistant into thirds.
He got his start in the folk clubs of Greenwich Village, opening for musicians like Dion or Tim Hardin, then graduated to headlining around the country and abroad. Like Mr. Adams, he emphasized stories and an emotional connection with the audience over flashy spectacle. “He was never a fan of that type of magic,” his son Noah said. Often he played to young audiences in the daytime and adults in the evening.
After Noah and his brother, Jonathan, were born, Mr. Fields spent a year teaching elementary school in Manhattan’s Chinatown, which inspired him to create MatheMagic, a show for children that he performed up to 200 times a year.
“He chose to do these children’s shows rather than go to Vegas, where he could have made more money” said William Stixrud, a friend from Ohev Sholom – the National Synagogue, in Washington, who shared Mr. Fields’s interests in Transcendental Meditation, Bikram yoga, singing and playing guitar.
Along with his sons and Ms. Chaikin, Mr. Fields is survived by his brother, Jeffrey Feldstein, and sister, Nancy Lloyd.
In an interview with Jim R. Moore for the website Vaudevisuals.com, Mr. Fields talked about the relationship between theater and magic, saying that magic was not about fooling people, but rather about immersing them in wonder.
“Regular theater is about the real world,” he said. “Magic has the extra added dimension of what’s beyond this world, what you can imagine.”