The Great Regurgitator, who was also billed as The Egyptian Enigma, was born Hadji Ali in Egypt in 1892. In the 1920’s Hadji Ali came to be something of an American vaudeville sensation for his unusual ability to swallow unique items, regurgitate them in an order specific to audience requests and for his ‘human water spout’ routine.
Professional regurgitation and the human water spout acts were actually nothing new. In the mid 17th century a Frenchman named Jean Royer was known for his regurgitating and spouting abilities. Another spouter, Blaise Manfre, was noted for his ability to drink water and regurgitate wine. Of course, his feat was accomplished by simply swallowing Brazil wood extract before the water which would then tint the liquid deep red. The regurgitation act was also common enough for Houdini to make mention of it, and his distaste for the act, in his book Miracle Mongers and Their Methods.
There was really no trick to the regurgitator act as it was a matter of controlled vomiting and repetitive training of the muscles of the stomach and throat to clench at will. Some performers were known to use substances to induce violent stomach spasms while retaining firm lip control, but those individuals lacked poise and presence and their careers were short lived as a result.
Ali brought a lot of unique elements to an act that had been virtually forgotten. His rather unique and foreign appearance certainly captured attention as did the vast amounts of water he was able to ingest and expel with ferocious pinpoint precision. Ali was known to swallow two or three fishbowls of water, cup by cup, and eject a six foot arc into a small waiting basin. Ali was able to accomplish the same feat even after swallowing numerous items before ingesting the water displaying some ability to compartmentalize his stomach.
In his finale, as drums roared and his assistant erected a small metal castle on stage, Ali would down a gallon of water followed by a gallon of straight kerosene. Expelling the kerosene in a powerful jet Ali would ignite the castle in flames, feed the flames with subsequent gusts, and then extinguish the inferno by driving out the water he had swallowed previously.
He performed his act a minimum of twenty-two times a week.
While other regurgitators were present in Ali’s the era, like Harry ‘The Human Hydrant’ Morton and The Great Waldo, their acts failed to really catch on. Morton’s act consisted primarily of downing mugs of beer on stage and regurgitating them before he became intoxicated and came across as being rather lowbrow while Waldo’s incorporation of living mice and rats terrified onlookers. The mere fact the Ali’s vomiting was regarded as impressive and credible entertainment certainly shows that his presentation and showmanship was remarkable.
Thankfully, Hadji Ali’s act was immortalized in the Laurel and Hardy movie “Politiquerias”, a Spanish-language version of the Laurel and Hardy movie “Chicken comes Home” and he has also appeared in a contemporary documentary called Gizmo.
While touring England and still enjoying a wave of unexpected popularity, Hadji Ali died of heart failure on November 5th 1937 in Staffordshire, England. The tradition of professional regurgitating has since been carried on by UK native Stevie Starr.