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Magician sparked fun with his quick hands and smiles

  • COURTESY PHOTO
    Bobby Acoba / 1939-2011.
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Longtime island magician Bobby Acoba entertained thousands of visitors and locals in Hawaii, even taking his unique skills to Japan to teach his tricks there. But perhaps his greatest skill, said fellow magician Curtis Kam, was doing a trick without appearing to.

"He would have someone choose a card and give the deck to someone else, and they would find it," Kam said. "It would be like he wasn’t doing anything."

Acoba, the bartender and magician at the former Aaron’s Atop the Ala Moana, Sarento’s Top of the "I" and other bars and nightclubs, died May 13 at age 71. Visitation and services will be Friday and Saturday at Borthwick Mortuary.

As a bartender magician, Acoba performed what is known as "close-up" magic, meaning the tricks are performed right in front of patrons, making the tricks even more astounding.

Acoba’s eldest daughter, Jodee Acoba-Suganuma, said he would practice his tricks in front of her to refine his skills, repeating them to the point where she now says, "I’m not a magic fan, because I knew all the tricks."

Still, there was one trick she could not figure out. She would choose a card from a deck that he had fanned face-out at her. Then he would name the card. "I thought he was looking at my eyes, so I would look somewhere else," she said. "But he always knew."

Acoba’s trickery with cash also confounded customers. According to a 1994 Star-Bulletin story, he once convinced a customer that he had torn up a $100 bill, then repaired the tears. The man pulled out his own $100 bill, tore it up and said, "OK, Mr. Magic Man, let’s see you make that whole again."

"Sorry, but I haven’t learned that one yet," Acoba said, sending the man off in search of tape to fix the bill.

Acoba-Suganuma said her father entertained such celebrities as Carol Burnett and Jim Nabors and was in demand at private parties. "He was a people person," she said, adding that he was generous almost to a fault, donating his talents to charity and helping co-workers.

Robert Acoba was born in Makawao, Maui and attended Waipahu High School. He was a bartender at the Ilikai Hotel when he started going to a local magic shop to learn some tricks to perform for bar patrons.

"He was especially good at improvising," Kam said. "You’d learn to do a trick a certain way — like a card is supposed to be in the deck — but maybe it would be in someone’s pocket, or somewhere else that not even he knew when he started the trick."

Acoba was invited to Japan about 10 years ago for a convention of bar magicians, said Glen Bailey, president of the Hawaii chapter of the Society of American Magicians, in an email. "The 200 Japanese Bar Tender Magicians were so amazed by his magic that no one thought he was really a bartender," he said.

"Bobby was very humble about his magical skills and always gave credit for his magical effects to the customers, making them feel they created the magic and he really was just as amazed as they were."

Visitation at Borthwick Mortuary will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, with a service at 7 p.m. Visitation will continue from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, with a service at 10:30 a.m. Burial will follow at 1 p.m. at Hawaiian Memorial Park.

Besides Acoba-Suganuma, Acoba is survived by wife Rosie; mother Katie; brothers Edwardo and David; children Jon Thomas, Riley Lewis, Corey Ramon, Christine Rose; and a grandson.

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