Nature versus nurture: which one has more influence? It’s an age-old argument. If you’re on the side of Nature, look no further than Rich Ferguson. Consider, if you will …
A 16-year-old girl gives birth to a baby boy and takes him home to a squalid house in Salinas. By the time he is one, the boy’s father has gone to prison on drug and assault charges. By the time he is five, his mother dies, leaving her boy in the “care” of her two younger sisters, ages 10 and 12. His only remaining adult relatives are a pair of grandparents—who are drug dealers.
“There was no adult supervision,” he recalls. “I ran the streets, did not attend school, … I had complete freedom … I did what I wanted, went where I wanted. There was violence and chaos all around me; even the police were on the take.”
But something in Rich’s nature told him he was invincible, told him to use his innate ability to observe human behavior and use what he learned to his advantage. He did not learn to read, but he did learn to survive. Despite the odds, Rich said he was never physically hurt
during this time.
“Neglected perhaps,” he explained. “But nobody messed with the Evans clan.” (Evans is the name of the extended family he was born into.) He began his study of human behavior and body language, and he cultivated his natural ability to adapt and survive.
Suddenly, all that changed. When Rich was 11, Child Protective Services finally swooped in and removed him from the only life he’d ever known. Rich went to live with a middle-aged couple, Margaret and Roy Ferguson—who lived on a ranch in Pozo! Overnight, he went from “crazy to calm.” Roy owned a radio and television store, and later a waterbed store, in San Luis Obispo. Margaret taught him to read and made three home-cooked meals every day. Which sounds great, but the change was so radical, so abrupt, it was hard on him. Yet Rich adapted like he always does. Just a few days after his 12th birthday, the Fergusons officially adopted him.
“Living in the country gave me lots of time think,” he said. On the bus ride to school, because of his remote location, he was the first to board and the last to get off. “I got to know all the animals, even learned to speak ‘goat,’” he said. He lived on the Pozo ranch for 7 years where his
adoptive parents instilled in Rich “ … an extremely strong work ethic, delivered with heavy doses of cleverness, sarcasm, and humor.” He would eventually graduate from Atascadero High School, and spend seven years in college, first at Cuesta and then at Cal Poly.
At age 22, Rich rediscovered the two young aunts he grew up with, Mia and Machelle. The story of the years and lengths they each spent
trying to find each other is a Hallmark movie for sure! “We have an amazing bond,” he says. “We are very close.” And at 32, he finally saw his Dad in prison and rediscovered that side of the family, including a half-sister he never knew about.
A chance meeting with a local hypnotherapist, Katin Imes, ignited a spark that would become ablaze, burning a path to what has become a most remarkable career as a magician, entertainer, mentalist, and educator.
“I was working at UPS at the time,” Rich recalls. “And I had placed an ad and put up flyers to see if I could get some entertainment gigs. Katin called right away and we struck up a conversation about hypnosis. THAT’s when I caught the bug for the good stuff in magic and mentalism. We spent years watching people, discussing human behaviors, and perfecting magic tricks.”
Rich also spent years hanging out at L.A.’s Magic Castle, meeting the pros, reading books, and practicing endlessly to perfect his moves.
“But it wasn’t the magic itself that drew me in,” he explains. “ … it was the structure of magic, the intersection between the person and the trick, that was the true motivator. I understand the how and the why of magic very deeply.”
Today, Rich Ferguson is an internationally acclaimed performer, garnering praise from locals and celebrities alike. From Ellen Degeneres to Jay Leno (for whom he has a special fondness); from corporate CEO’s to leading politicians, all have had enthusiastic praise for Rich’s work. The list of awards and achievements over his 25-year career includes the Gold Medal for Sleight of Hand/Strolling Magic from the Academy of Magical Arts, a Telly Award for a documentary about his life, Certificates of Recognition from California State Assemblyman Abel Maldonado and Senator Tom McClintock, Best Entertainer in a regional poll for 11 years, and a whopping 14 World Records in Card, Coin, Poker Chip, and Ring Manipulation.
In 2004, Rich Ferguson took a tumble, both literally and figuratively. At that time, Rich was “famous” for his regular Thursday night game nights held at his house in downtown SLO. He was a prankster who loved to stand at the top of a long stairway as people arrived, calling out
“Come on in!” and then executing a perfect fall, tumbling down the stairs and landing at the feet of his astonished guests. One of them, Traci, fell in love with him then and there. They started dating a year later, were married in 2008, and today, they are parents of 3-year-old twins, a girl, Eden, and a boy, Evan.
Can you make it big on the Central Coast? Yes, he says, but it requires tenacity and the willingness to travel. Since most of his work is now out of town, he should be living in a larger city with bigger airports and easier access to his global destinations. But the Central Coast is his
home, his community, and he’s willing to take the extra time so he can raise his children in such a beautiful, safe place. Despite an early childhood that might have made criminals out of most of us, Rich’s life after age 12 just got better and better—filled with love, laughter, and success in equal measure.
Until last year.
Eighteen months ago, Rich was t-boned by a reckless driver in downtown SLO. In an instant, his world was rocked. The whiplash he suffered resulted in nerve damage to his right arm and hand, chronic pain, and severe insomnia.
“It’s been a brutal year,” he admits, “the most difficult and painful time of my adult life. I still have a gimpy right arm and three bulging discs in my neck.” Plus it’s really hard to heal when you can’t sleep. But as usual, Rich’s nature does not allow him to wallow. “If I was a juggler and lost an arm, I’d say ok, I can’t juggle anymore but let’s see what I CAN do,” he said. In this case, he did not work from November to March and he used the time to re-invent, change direction, rebrand.
He started a book on body language, created a course in body language/ influence, built a high-end website, and created a new YouTube show.
“Plus I had a lot of quality time with the twins,” he grinned.
Last month, a half-hour documentary titled Becoming Rich was screened at this year’s SLO Film Festival. It’s fun to note how often Rich’s name can be used to create clever titles: Get Rich, Rags to Riches, etc. Plus you can watch videos and learn more about him by visiting www.richferguson.com and clicking on links to his YouTube shows.
As he approaches 50 (he’ll hit the half-century mark next year), Rich waxes philosophical about his life so far. One of the ways he gives back is working with at-risk youth. He has been asked to give talks on surviving adversity. “I never had a choice,” he explains. “My first 11 years, I had nothing. Staying alive was a constant struggle, so I learned how to cope. People like us are lucky,” he tells them. “Because those who don’t have to struggle don’t get those lessons. So when bad things happen, all they can do is whine or blame. We [on the other hand] learned how to cope; we learned to observe, analyze, strategize, and influence … not just to survive but to thrive and succeed.”
This is Rich Ferguson’s new direction. Less performance, more education. He is embarking on a speaking tour that he hopes will take him all over the world. He wants to share his unique knowledge and inspiring outlook with others.
“I had a tough childhood,” he explains. “And I had a major setback in my adult life, too. But I love to innovate, and still try to be the best I can be in any situation. I’d like for people to know that the REAL magic is the ability to move forward, despite life’s setbacks.”
Nature or Nurture? Meet Rich Ferguson and then decide.