The following obituary uses content from two previous IJA publications (a 1964 IJA Newsletter article by Bob Brock and a 1987 Juggler’s World Magazine article by Sandy Brown) as well as new content by author David Cain.
The juggling community has lost one of its brightest stars and biggest icons. Rudy Horn passed away on October 12th, 2018 at his home, following several years of poor health. Rudy was born to a circus family in Nuremberg, Germany in 1933. Although his parents were versatile entertainers (acrobats, trapeze, and teeter board performers), the jugglers in the family were his maternal grandfather, who owned a small open-air circus, and an uncle. Rudy began to juggle when only seven years old on the Christmas Eve of 1940 when his father, who had just been drafted into the army, tried to brighten the Yuletide season by juggling three apples for him and his baby sister. Demonstrating tremendous natural aptitude, Rudy picked up the apples, and within 10 minutes he could juggle them better than his father. His parents quickly recognized the significance of this event and evidently aware of what the future might hold for their young son, insisted that Rudy practice juggling.
Although the youngster did not relish the idea, he was required to practice an hour during his two-hour lunch period. In the afternoons, when he returned home from school, he was permitted to play with his friends; however, every evening when his father returned home from his army post, Rudy was required to practice with him from 7 until 10 pm. In addition to juggling, the Rudy worked on acrobatics and tap dancing as well.
After almost two years of practice, Rudy’s father went to the manager of the Wintergarten Theater in Nuremberg to get a booking for his son. When the manager learned that Rudy was only a child who had never performed before, he thought the idea was ridiculous. Nevertheless, Rudy’s father persuaded him, and the youngster was booked in the Christmas show in 1942 on a bill that included many of the top variety performers of Germany.
Little nine year old Rudy shared the stage on his first public appearance with his grandfather. With him, he did an acrobatic routine and some three club passing that included takeaways. Rudy stood on his grandfather’s head while both Rudy and the elderly man juggled clubs. All this was done while they rapidly moved back and forth across the stage. The highlight of the act was the solo performance of Rudy. In addition to an opening tap dance he did juggling routines with three balls, three clubs, five rings, and finished with the kick up to his head of a single saucer, a cup, a spoon and a sugar cube. The act stopped the show and the boy became a sensation. He immediately began performing in the best night spots of Germany. After nearly a year, the bombing raids increased and his parents decided that being away from home was too dangerous for their son, so Rudy quit performing until the war ended.
Rudy recalled that the next couple of years were dismal ones. Despite poor food, he kept up his practice schedule. After hostilities ceased, he started to perform for military audiences in clubs established by the US Army. By 1946, he could do seven cups and saucers, and his ball and club routines became so perfected that the only thing that dropped to the floor were the cigarettes (then the unit of currency exchange) that the Americans threw in appreciation. It was during this time that he added some dance moves while juggling. Rudy explained how this happened, saying, “I was doing shows for Special Service troops after the war and many times the band couldn’t read music…so one time they said, ‘Well, we’ll just play the jitterbug or something,’ so I started to juggle and dance at the same time and the crowd went crazy!”
An all-important step in his career came in 1948 when he played the winter season with the circus Krone. His act was very popular and for the three summer seasons that followed, Rudy was at the top of the bill.
At this time, Rudy, just for his own amusement, enjoyed throwing a spoon from his hand to a balance on his forehead. He became so proficient at doing it that the stunt became part of his performing routine in the 1949 season. The kick up of a spoon from his foot was a natural progression and was added to the act during the following season.
Rudy’s trademark, his cups and saucers finish, was inspired by a routine originated by a juggler from Augsburg, Germany named Ferry Mader. Mader, a close friend of Rudy’s father, used five or six large plates and bowls, and although he kicked up the first few objects, he tossed the top ones into place with his hand.
In contrast to his other routines, young Horn enjoyed working on the cups and saucers. Following Rudy’s success with it, the routine became more and more popular among other jugglers. The first serious duplication of the routine occurred in 1948. Rudy countered by learning to do the routine on a unicycle, although the effort was not an easy one.
During his first season with Circus Krone in 1948, Rudy managed to get on the unicycle of Lucky Flühr, a comic bike performer, and ride it for 30 feet on the first try. On subsequent efforts, he was not so successful. Nevertheless, Rudy recalled, he was soon able to ride a unicycle. The problem was to get one of his own, since none were for sale and he knew no one who could make one. In the meantime, the 14 year old Rudy asked the great master unicyclist and juggler Freddy Zay if he thought the cup routine was possible on a cycle and received a negative answer. By early 1949 Rudy was able to have a cycle made for himself, and he immediately started getting the feel of the five-footer by riding everywhere he could on the circus grounds. He recalled the hardest thing about accomplishing the cup routine on the cycle was to determine if it was possible. After realizing it could be mastered, Rudy began to practice six hours a day besides doing two shows that included the kick-up of ten cups while standing. In the 1950 summer season, the unicycle was brought into the act using 6 cups and needless to say, the audience reaction was terrific.
In late 1950, an offer to be featured in the Bertram Mills Circus brought him to England. This was his first stint outside of his native country. While still a teenager, he received his first international recognition. Then he played for a year beginning in March 1951 at the most famous nightclub of all, the “Lido” in Paris. In this engagement, the seven ball bounce on the drum became part of the performance.
After rejoining the Mills Circus for another season, Rudy made his debut in the United States in late 1952, where he played Las Vegas and the Ed Sullivan show. The year 1953 saw him again with Mills. A tremendous honor for him was doing a Royal Command Performance, just before embarking for the second visit to the US in 1954.
Rudy made Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps his home, although his performances took him all around the world, often for long contracts. Rudy had been juggling professionally for a dozen years before he saw any other juggler perform. The first juggler he ever saw was some fellow named Francis Brunn! Rudy became good friends with Bobby May.
The last addition to his act was the balancing of a tall lampshade while cascading seven rings. The trick took only a couple of months practice to perfect during a year’s tour of Australia in 1959. It was on this same Australian tour that his sister Gerty replaced his mother as his assistant. Eventually, his wife Helga became his assistant and remained so for the rest of his career.
Rudy continued to perform in the best venues around the world. In 1973, he won the Rastelli Trophy in Bergamo, Italy, claiming the title of the greatest juggler in the world.
In his 33 years in show business, he only worked in his native Germany for three years. He retired in 1975 and taught tennis in Berchtesgaden for many years. In 2000, Rudy Horn attended the IJA Convention and was given the Historical Achievement Award for his long career as one of the art’s greatest performers.
Rudy Horn being presented the IJA’s Historical Achievement Award by Ernest Montego
Rudy Horn and Ernest Montego
To celebrate his 80th birthday in 2013, an incredible museum exhibit was put on display, once in Berchtesgaden and once in Nuremberg, showcasing his fabulous career. You can see highlights of this wonderful exhibition in the following video.
Apart from juggling, Rudy was very interested in music. He studied popular singing (his favorite singers were Johnny Mathis and Eddie Fisher) with hopes of someday becoming a professional. He was even offered a contract by Polydor Records in 1968, but turned it down to continue his juggling career. He played the accordion and was an avid coin collector. Rudy was also quite the linguist, speaking German, English, and French without any discernible accent.
Even by today’s standards, Rudy was a technical juggler of incredible ability. He could easily juggle 7 rings for over a minute and juggle 8 rings for 50 catches without too much effort. He could qualify 9 balls and could go from standing to lying on his back to standing all while juggling five balls without stopping. He was also the first juggler that we know for sure to have performed Albert Throws with both hands and to do 5 ball back crosses. He is also the first juggler known to have used plastic rings. He started doing so in 1945, after his father had some made in a factory in Nuremberg. These rings are extremely similar in size and feel to standard modern juggling rings. You can see one on display at the Museum of Juggling History.
Rudy was much beloved by all who knew him. He was a modest, friendly, generous, and very even-tempered gentleman. He was extremely hard working. One employer even found him practicing in the circus ring at three o’clock one morning, drenched with perspiration, and exclaiming jubilantly that he had succeeded in kicking up nine cups.
Rudy will be missed by his fans, family, and friends. He leaves behind his wife Helga, two sons, and extended family. Our condolences go out to all who knew and loved him.
Rudy and his family
If you have never had the opportunity to watch Rudy Horn’s act, there are many videos available of it online. Below you will find some of the better examples.