*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
Many people have noticed magician Penn Jillette wears red nail polish on one single fingernail, the nail on the ring finger of his left hand. He can be seen sporting a single red fingernail in photos going back to at least 1986.
My mother was curious about Jillette's red fingernail for years, and she recently decided to research the exact reason behind his unusual manicure choice. What she learned moved her to tears. He wears red nail polish on one fingernail to honor his mother.
"Who doesn't love magic?" my mother asked me.
"It's hypnotizing, and I'm always glued to the screen when a good magic show is on the television. I was watching Penn and Teller one day when noticed that one member of the duo was wearing red nail polish on his left ring finger. To me it was puzzling," my mother said.
"Then I realized he wore that one red nail all the time. I thought he was making a fashion statement, but the real reason was a lot more sentimental, his mother."
Penn Jillette wears the red fingernail to remind himself of his mother, as he explained in a nearly decade-old tweet on his official Twitter account, writing: "People asking about my red fingernail. It's for my mom. I wear my dad's ring and my mom's nail polish. It reminds me of them. Momma's boy."
Penn Jillette's mother, Valda Rudolph Jillette, passed away in 2000. His father, Samuel Herbert Jillette, passed away one year earlier, in 1999.
Perhaps the most complete collection of reasons Penn Jillette has cited for the red fingernail comes from Wikipedia:
Jillette has told multiple stories regarding the red fingernail on his left hand. In one, Jillette's mother told him to get a manicure because people would be looking at his hands. In response to this, he had all of his nails painted red as a joke. Jillette has also claimed that red fingernail provides excellent misdirection and is just plain cool. In direct response to questions about his red fingernail, Penn has stated "People are asking about my fingernail. Wear my Dad's ring and my Mom's nail polish. Just for remembrance and respect."On the podcast Skepticality in 2012, Jillette said that he was considering changing the meaning of the red nail polish, telling his daughter it is for her. During his appearance on the Chopped Tournament of Stars (2014), he told the story of his mother suggesting he get a manicure for the reasons stated above, and said that he kept it out of respect for her.
Now, when you see him on television or on stage in the Penn & Teller Theater, and you notice his red fingernail, you will know he is showing his love for his mother.