Beatles Pal “Magic Alex” Mardas Dead at 74

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Magic Alex, at right, was one of the first employees of the Beatles’ Apple

In the overall scheme of all things Beatles, “Magic Alex” was not one of the major players. But he was a part of the story nonetheless, one of those characters that came into their orbit and influenced the band and was then consigned to Beatles bios. An electronics whiz who became the head of the Beatles’ short-lived Apple Electronics, Yanni “John” Alexis Mardas died Jan. 13, 2017, in Athens, Greece, of natural causes. He was 74.

It was John Lennon who gave the young Greek the nickname of Magic Alex. Born May 2, 1942, in Athens, Mardas had arrived in London in 1965, where he became friendly with Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. Mardas exhibited his Kinetic Light Sculptures at the Indica Gallery (the same place where John met Yoko Ono) and impressed Lennon with his “Nothing Box,” a small device with blinking lights with which Lennon reportedly became infatuated while tripping on LSD.

Related: The Beatles’ Apple boutique closes, 1968

More than anything, according to various Beatles bios, Magic Alex talked a good game. He convinced the Rolling Stones he could design a spectacular light show for one of their tours but the results did not impress the group. He told the Beatles he could create fascinating, futuristic electronics devices (including one, a telephone that responded to voice commands, that is now common). According to one report, he asked Lennon and George Harrison for the engines from their cars to power a flying saucer. (Mardas later denied making many of these claims.)

“Magic Alex,” standing behind Paul McCartney

He also promised the Beatles that he could build them a 72-track recording studio, a technological feat that was unimaginable at the time. He did build a 16-track studio, which the group attempted to use on its Let it Be sessions but abandoned when it proved faulty. It was later sold as scrap metal.

Mardas also reportedly bought several large computers he planned to use for one experiment involving an “invisible force field,” but they were never used and were relegated to a storage room.

When the Beatles set up their Apple company, they put Magic Alex in charge of the electronics division. He was given a laboratory and paid handsomely to come up with the projects he proposed, but nothing significant resulted from his work. He did, however, contribute to a song that Lennon was writing, “What’s the New Maryjane?” Intended for the “White Album,” it was scrapped but later turned up on bootlegs and then the Beatles Anthology 3. He is also seen in the group’s Magical Mystery Tour film and accompanied Harrison and Lennon to India, where they studied with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Magic Alex’s “Nothing Box”

Following the Beatles’ split, Mardas lived and worked in various countries in various capacities. He created a bulletproof car that was purchased by the Shah of Iran but another one of Mardas’ bulletproof cars blew up after a security agent tested it with a bullet.

In 2008, Mardas sued The New York Times for calling him a “charlatan.” He dropped the case when the paper brought witnesses to support its claim.

Watch Magic Alex, in an outtake from Magical Mystery Tour, sing “Walls of Jericho”

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