Inside Magician Criss Angel’s Fight to Save His 2-Year-Old Son from Cancer: ‘I’d Rather It Be Me That Was Sick’

09/01/2016 at 06:10 PM ET

Criss Angel son Johnny cancer
Coral Von Zumwalt

It was 2 a.m. in Las Vegas when Criss Angel got the phone call that his son, Johnny, had been diagnosed with cancer.

“I felt helpless,” the Mindfreak Live! magician says in the current issue of PEOPLE of the moment he found out his son had acute lymphoblastic leukemia last October.

Making matters worse, Angel and his wife Shaunyl Benson had separated and his son had just been relocated to Australia. But Angel dropped everything to fly to Brisbane to be by Johnny’s side.

“I’m locked into a 10-year contract and had never missed one show,” says Angel, 48, who is committed to performing 10 times a week at the Luxor Las Vegas. “But I needed to be with my son.”

Criss Angel son Johnny cancer
Coral Von Zumwalt

Because of his commitment to perform in Mindfreak Live! on the Strip and the taping of a TV special that debuts on A&E in October, Angel was only able to visit his son two more times over the next 10 months.

Still, Angel was supportive long-distance. He and Benson, 26, have not reconciled, but are determined to co-parent Johnny, now 2.

“Honestly, we are really good friends. Whenever I need anything, I know that Criss is there,” Benson tells PEOPLE.

“At the end of the day, it makes Johnny happy to see his parents interacting happily and … it makes me happy seeing my son happy.”

Criss Angel son Johnny cancer
Coral Von Zumwalt

Both say it was difficult watching their son experience the side effects of cancer treatments, which included hair loss and behavioral changes.

“Johnny is a happy, fun, loving boy, but the steroid treatments have a profound effect on his mood,” Angel explains. He began throwing “violent” tantrums. “That’s hard to see, but that’s not our Johnny. That’s the steroids.”

Now Johnny is technically in remission, but will continue treatment for another two years. His immune system is on the rebound, and in August he visited the U.S. for the first time since his diagnosis.

Criss Angel son Johnny cancer
Courtesy of Criss Angel

Criss Angel son Johnny cancer
Coral Von Zumwalt

And his father has found new purpose, founding the Johnny Crisstopher Children’s Charitable Foundation to raise awareness of pediatric cancer and search for a cure.

“My son is supposed to outlive me. I’d rather it be me that was sick,” he says. “I want Johnny’s future to be long and happy. That kid is just a bundle of love. He’s the truest form of magic.”

For more on Johnny’s cancer battle — including his family’s emotional trip to Disneyland — pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

— Patrick Gomez

FILED UNDER: Criss Angel , Exclusive , Kids , News , Parenting

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Showing 52 comments

Stella on

It looks like he bought one of those Kate Gosselin wigs from the Hallowe’en section at Walmart and spray painted it black.

Trish on

There is nothing more frightening or sad to see than a sick child.
Well done for all your efforts to help children and families in need.

Madison on

This is so heartbreaking. It’s so hard to see children suffer and go through what he’s going through. Why did she take the baby to Australia and couldn’t he fight that?

familyintoronto on

@Stella… wow, that’s what you took from this? An opinion on his hair style? Never mind that this father has supported his child and set up a charitable organization which will help many more children in the future. Heaven forbid… let’s comment on his looks rather than his actions.

Ellie on

so sad. this poor little child to have to go through such trauma. but wonderful that Criss has stepped up and is a great father.

PCC on

Why did the mother take the son to Austrailia and why couldn’t he fight it? You’re assuming he wanted to fight it. When he was based in New York he used to hide his then wife from his fans and pretend they weren’t married. Maybe this experience will change him, but he hasn’t been the nicest guy in the past. And he does look like he is wearing Kate Gosselin’s rejected wig.

Disgusted @Stella on

@Stella – your comment about this baby’s father is disgusting. Grow up and have compassion for what this family is going through. I’m speechless over what you wrote. Your parents did a HORRIBLE job raising you…

Bad wishes come home to roost…remember that in your pathetic life.

Bella T on

Two years ago at age 56 I was diagnosed with a bone marrow cancer. It’s very treatable/manageable but the doctors will never say you’re cured even though I am now in a very good remission. The oncologist who broke the news to me was very sweet and put things into perspective. He said that yes having cancer is frightening and the only thing worse than you having cancer, is your child having cancer. He was right. I have two young adult sons who along with my husband helped me through every step of my chemo and stem cell transplants. I looked at my boys and cannot imagine how I would feel if one of them was going through this.

Just saying.. on

I feel like he goes around messing up young girls lives with all of his failed relationships with 20 something year olds. He needs to act his almost 49 years and sadly, I think his sons illness hopefully has put his priorities in order. I hope his little boy will be ok.

Emilyrothem on

He barely gets any time with his son and he uses this time to have an interview and photo shoot? using your sick kid for promoting your upcoming special is disgusting and low.

Scooter on

If he’s a magician, why can’t he make his son’s cancer disappear?

jlduke55 on

One time in 10 months?! Wow, there’s no contract on earth that would keep me from my child, especially fighting cancer. No amount of money was worth missing that. I usually try not to judge other parents but this just rubbed me the wrong way. Not cool.

Anonymous on

Of course, who wouldn’t give their life for their child.

Lina on

I’m sorry for his kid, but this guy just always rubbed me the wrong way..not very likable.

DJ on

No doubt cancer is terrible and everyone knows that. But, there’s nothing wrong with Stella pointing out the obvious and making at least one person giggle.

Agirlhasnoname on

Hang in there, little buddy! Cancer in kids is not fair. So cruel. I hope he continues to be in remission forever. Beautiful boy.

Mya on

So heartbreaking their little boy will be in my prayers tonight

Kim on

Why was she allowed to move to Australia? He should have taken her to court up keep her in the US until at least his treatment was over.

Lily on

@kim The mom & baby had already moved to Australia when they found out he had cancer.

Em on

Geez, people, I thought Stella’s comment was funny and my own dad died from acute myeloid leukemia for crying out loud. This article is incredibly heartbreaking, obviously, but I also respect commentators who branch out from the expected and make a joke occasionally. You need a lot of humor to get through cancer.

Nancy on

Stella, your comment is so telling of the air-head you are.

Lucypepper on

I had no idea he was that old.

Jen on

For all you people praising him… maybe you did not read the article. He basically chose to ‘work’ instead of being with his 2yr old son who was fighting cancer. He saw his son once in 10 months… was not there to support him or his ex through this. Would it have been worth it if his son had died? All this for MindFreak??? Loser.

Stephanie on

How old is his ex wife? Like 14???????

nat on

Criss and many other stars will be at Luxor in Las Vegas on Monday September 12th at 7pm for a charity event for the foundation he has set up. I hope they make a lot of money for research for this cancer.
P.S. Criss I love the chopper in the pictures with this article and I am glad your handsome little boy is in remission and doing better.

Swish on

I had no idea his son had cancer! Poor little guy. I hope he continues to do well.

@Disgusted @Stella
Your reaction to @Stella was just a tad over the top.

myuntidydesk on

Why isn’t the little boy getting treatment and living in the US? No offense to Australia, but given the circumstances… given how little his dad can travel to be with him, he should be nearby. It isn’t like we don’t have a number of wonderful cancer and children’s hospitals here to choose from. And I am sure Criss could pay for any expenses. IDK… seems very odd that the child be so sick and so far away. I wish them all the best.

Hea on

Poor kid, I wish him all the best.

As to the ones asking why Criss didn’t fight for his son to stay in the states – was it even possible? If she’s Australian then perhaps it was a visa thing? As far as I can tell she’s been raising this kid alone for the most part. If her social network is in Australia then I understand why she’s located there. His priorities have obviously been different. ONCE in TEN MONTHS? That’s only reasonable if you’re military or in outer space!

Rolyat on

Sometimes I’d like to get him in a shower and lick him clean. He’s hot!

Cathy on

What a precious little boy!!! Jesus is with him and I feel Chris wish for him for a happy long life will come true!!! You are in my prayers!!! God bless all of you!!!

Susan on

Cancer sucks keep up the fight little Johnny.

artyomkas on

Klass

artyomkas on

Criss Angel my Hero,shortly I will be better and am higher than him.

Nicole on

The commentors on people can use any story as an excuse to pass judgement. Even one about a kid with cancer. Says more about you than the father!

Sara on

What a useless father! His son has cancer and he sees him ONCE in 10 months??? I don’t care what kind of contract you have, if your child is sick you are with them. Period.

Clara on

It’s really sad that people can still insult and be hateful toward someone who’s child is in remission from cancer. Shameful.
So glad Johnny is in remission and I’m praying for him. Criss, The Lord healed my Uncle from terminal cancer 16 years ago and he’s still cancer free. My Uncle had been a smoker for over 30 years so I know the miracles God can perform and he definitely loves your beautiful little Johnny! God Bless!!!🙂

Bonita1973 on

It’s really sad that people can still insult and be hateful toward someone who’s child is in remission from cancer. Shameful.
So glad Johnny is in remission and I’m praying for him. Criss, The Lord healed my Uncle from terminal cancer 16 years ago and he’s still cancer free. My Uncle had been a smoker for over 30 years so I know the miracles God can perform and he definitely loves your beautiful little Johnny! God Bless!!!🙂

Carla on

What a beautiful child. I’m glad they put their differences aside for the happiness of their child.

Maha on

Always amazing to see parents put the world aside and join forces for the good of their kids. Humans are selfish by nature, but for children, when they put aside their own egos and wants, it’s a beautiful thing.
Hope Johnny gets well soon and doesn’t need painful meds and procedures anymore. All the best wishes to him.

Lala on

@Stephanie, if you can read it says she is 26. Not everyone looks old as you may look.

Bluzulu on

Cancer is a B17 deficiency and a cell salt deficiency. Poor baby…I really hope they rid him of this nasty, nasty dis-ease.

Guest on

For all the comments about him visiting his child only twice, he has a 10 year contract, Australia is about 20 hours from Las Vegas, and I bet he is the only one that works. I doubt you will be praising him if he quit working g
And the whole family ended up in welfare. The child got the proper care in Australia, he is doing better and his father’s work pays for everything

Jen on

Oh please, guest. He is a multimillionaire… not someone working for an hourly wage to put food on the table everyday. So he has a 10yr contract… take a 6 month leave of absence to be with your child who has a deadly disease. His show would still be there in 6 months or whenever. It just goes to show you what is most important in his life. He obviously didn’t mind his son moving to another continent so it makes sense.

ridoutsandy on

I have tried to reach out to Chris to introduce him to something totally different than what conventional medicine has to offer. There’s a virus in the blood that cannot be eradicated by conventional means but can be eradicated by a specific protocol using non-invasive means. It’s not complex but in fact relatively simple when the biochemistry is understood.

The problem is how to get in touch with high profile celebrities to let them know that there’s another way. There’s no guarantee of anything, but why wouldn’t somebody take an alternate route that’s very simple and extremely inexpensive as well as easy to implement? As long as people follow the advice and procedures of these conventional medicine “experts” we will never know the real power of doctoring ourselves with what nature has already provided us in healing.

Alyce on

What a horrible part of life, but I appreciate all the Criss Angel is doing to put a positive mark on this horrible child killer. I would love to be able to offer our petting zoo or pony ride to a local hospital for children, however, we live in a po-dunk town so far from anywhere. To all those out there who are in such a horrible situation, know that I may not know your name, but I am thinking of you. I won’t pray for you because I believe “God” is a horrible mythical being, but I will keep you in my thoughts

Alyce on

Seriously WTF is wrong with some of you people bumpin your gums about someone?!?! STFU! This story is about a child who is battling for his life, a mom and dad who are going through hell and back watching and hoping their little boy get’s to see his first day of school. So all you jackasses out there who want to say anything other than supportive words, may you rot in hell! Your a sorry sack of crap life form!

James Randi on

Criss is a giant in many ways. He’s just expressed one of those to us. Love. joy, and awe to you and yours, my friend…

Randi.

Patrick Millwood on

Criss please give this to your son I had Thyroid Cancer and had 10 pounds of tumors removed from my the left side of my neck. They said they needed to go back into the right side of my neck and remove more. I declined but i spoke with this person which told me to take 6oz of cottage cheese,3oz of organic flax seed oil and take a hand blender and blend these 2 items together making like a butter substance. Then you take pure natural honey drisy this over the combimation, and then put walnuts and any kind of fruit and before you eat it say a pray over it. They did a scan after I did this mix for 4 to 6 months after and I have NO CANCER.

emily on

Dear Chris,
I love your shows. They are awesome! You are stunning and amazing!
Sorry to hear about your son. I hope he is okay. I feel for you. My cousin had cancer before and

brian deegan on

I WILL DO WHAT I CAN TO HELP YOUR SON JUST LET ME KNOW MY FONE NUMBER IS (855) 554-5936

sean ritenour on

Dear Chris,
You are the greatest guy on planet earth your shows are terrific both Mindfreak and Believe. But I do feel horrible for your son it sucks I know I had someone in my family had cancer.

sean ritenour on

Dear Chris,
You are the greatest guy on planet earth your shows are terrific both Mindfreak and Believe. But I do feel horrible for your son it sucks I know I had someone in my family had cancer.