BEVERLY — Cesareo Pelaez, the charismatic Cuban who escaped his native country and created the world's longest-running stage magic show in a renovated Beverly theater, died Saturday of congestive heart failure. He was 79.
Pelaez suffered a stroke in 2005 and stopped performing his role of Marco the Magi in 2006. Since then, he would appear on stage at the end of each performance of Le Grand David and His Own Spectacular Company in his wheelchair, acknowledging the cheers with a wave of his hands. He made his last appearance Feb. 18 for the company's 35th anniversary show.
Pelaez began receiving hospice care at home in November. He was taken to the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers on Wednesday and died there Saturday at 3 a.m., according to David Bull, who plays Le Grand David in the show.
Bull said he received several messages from magicians pointing out that Saturday was Houdini's birthday. The magicians called the timing "Cesareo's final trick."
Pelaez and a group of friends started Le Grand David in 1977 after pooling their money to buy the Cabot Cinema, a 1920 vaudeville theater on Cabot Street, paying $110,000 in cash to owner E.M. Lowe.
The show featured classic magic tricks, such as a floating table and doves snatched out of the air, with the troupe performing in exotic handmade costumes amid the grand arches and ornate murals of the restored theater.
Over the years, the show drew national and international attention. The troupe performed at the White House seven times. Pelaez was named Magician of the Year by the Academy of Magic Arts in Hollywood, and the entire company performed at the awards banquet at the Beverly Hills Wilshire Hotel.
Pelaez, who also worked as a psychology professor at Salem State College for 25 years, oversaw the entire production, from the custom-made sets to ticket sales to the hot chocolate served in the balcony.