Irene Larsen, co-founder of the Academy of Magical Arts and the private clubhouse the Magic Castle, died unexpectedly on Thursday morning at her Los Angeles home. She was 79.

After she assisted her late husband William “Bill” Larsen Jr. in his various magic acts for years, the two launched the Magic Castle together in 1963. Larsen’s dedication to the role of ambassador of magic helped elevate the AMA to an internationally renowned and respected organization within the art’s community.

Larsen was also an ardent and outspoken animal rights activist, who policed the well-being of animals in the acts of magicians and banned anyone who mistreated them from performing in the Magic Castle. She supported nonprofit organizations such as Last Chance for Animals.

Although the Magic Castle is invitation only, the free show quickly became one of the hottest spots in town. Celebrities including Moby, Sofia Vergara, Joe Manganiello, Ryan Gosling, Jason Alexander, Christina Hendricks, Matthew Gubler, Randy Newman, Paul Reubens and John Landis have recently attended magic shows at the Castle. Larsen was a frequent figure at the Magic Castle until the end and was known by magicians around the world as “Princess Irene,” a stage name given to her by her first husband.