Bill Gnadt was born March 8, 1928, in Boise, Idaho, to William Edward and Alice Lynch Gnadt. He moved with his parents to Salt Lake City in 1934 and lived there the rest of his life. Bill did magic as a boy, but when well known magician Carl Ballantine saw him doing manipulation tricks, Ballantine suggest that Gnadt try juggling as well. At age 12 Bill learned to juggle and began juggling items from his father’s hardware store. Before long he was juggling sickles and meat cleavers. As a teen he performed magic and juggling in local USO shows. Bill joined the Army right out of high school and spent two years as a soldier. In the Army, he was famous for juggling dummy grenades and rifles. After he left the Army, he spent time performing at school assemblies, often doing four shows a day.
Bill then got his big break, performing at the Showboat Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada during the 1950s under the name Billy Grace. During one of his shows at the Showboat. he was once spinning three plates on a mouthstick, juggling battle axes and spinning three rings (two on one arm, one on his ankle) when an earthquake hit. He didn’t drop the trick, which was an accomplishment of which he was always proud.
After Bill’s contract at the Showboat ended, Bill started working at state fairs. His performances took him to 30 states. However, he was never again able to secure as good of work as he did in Las Vegas and his performing career never really took off.
He went to The University of Utah and earned a degree in Health Education. He then taught special education classes in Salt Lake City for the next 25 years before retiring in 1980. He then performed around Salt Lake City for many years while taking care of his elderly parents.
Bill learned to juggle close to 200 different kinds of tools. He could juggle up to nine rings, six plates, and four plates in one hand and two knives in the other hand. Other props he worked with included M1 rifles, bowling balls, pitchforks, basketballs, machetes, samurai swords, pitchforks, double-edged axes, lopping shears, amputation saws, rings, sledgehammers, torches, hedge trimmers, baseball bats, shot puts, and chain saws. Bill was never a stranger to danger, as he had been an Army paratrooper and made 60 jumps between 1946 and 1948. He loved to juggle the heavy and danger tools and was proud that doing so set him apart from other jugglers. The only time in his career when he juggled mostly typical props was during his “Billy Grace” days at the Showboat. If you want to know how talented Bill Gnadt was, some of the greatest jugglers of all time testified to his talent. Bobby May said Gnadt was the greatest technical juggler he ever saw and Anthony Gatto called him “very original.” Bill turned down an offer to appear on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, fearful that he might drop. His repertoire included juggling a ping-pong ball with a short sledge hammer and a shot put. He did two pitchforks and a baseball bat while balancing a football on his head. He juggled a lumberjack axe, ninja sword and samurai sword while spinning one hoop on his ankle and another on his thigh. “I do a million tricks,” he once stated confidently.
Bill was a huge fan of juggling history and was obsessed with learning everything he could about Enrico Rastelli. He said the two greatest jugglers that he ever saw in person were Bob Ripa and Massimiliano Truzzi. One of his fondest memories was a 1955 gathering of jugglers in a Los Angeles hotel room. “There was me, Igor Rudenko, Massimiliano Truzzi, Bobby May, and Bill Tallent, each juggling seven balls.”
Juggling wasn’t Bill’s only passion. He was a voracious reader, spending five hours a day reading books on a very wide array of subjects. This allowed him to be able to converse about a huge variety of topics. He was a highly competitive table tennis player, winning over 100 trophies during his lifetime. He was also a lifetime fitness fanatic, working out every day and competing in weight lifting and body building competitions. Bill never married and visitors to his Salt Lake City home described him as quite a pack rat.
Bill was a mentor to well-known juggler Bob Nickerson. Bob reports that Bill was the most energetic person he ever knew. Bob also described Bill as extremely well-read and opinionated. When I asked Bob what the greatest trick he ever saw done by Bill Gnadt, he responded that Bill would juggle three knives in one hand with triple spins while juggling two knives in the other hand with double spins.
Bill was involved with the IJA, serving as the vice president from 1969 to 1970 and competing a number of times when the championships were first started. He was even the 1971 Numbers Champion. You can see Bill juggling his deadly tools in the following video of the 1969 IJA Convention at 2:18, and 2:47.
In his late 70s, Bill suffered from prostate cancer and dementia and moved into a nursing home. In 2008, he was befriended by local juggler Taylor Glenn, who would often visit Bill at the nursing home. Bill Gnadt passed away in 2010. In 2015, Taylor was visiting a local flea market and came across a box of Bill’s props for sale. She bought the box of treasures. In 2017, she passed most of Bill’s props on to the Museum of Juggling History, where they are on display today. You can see them below.