Page last updated at 09:16 GMT, Tuesday, 9 May 2006 10:16 UK

Blaine in pursuit of Houdini legend

By Steven Shukor
BBC News

David Blaine has spent a week under water in his latest stunt, called the Drowned Alive challenge.

David Blaine
Blaine claims his stunts are about opening people's minds
When I spoke to Blaine after his 44 days in a Perspex box above the Thames in 2003, he was imagining something very different for his latest escapade.

He talked about repeating the feat of 19th Century daredevil Steve Brodie, who was tied up before leaping off New York's Brooklyn Bridge in 1886.

Brodie, a bookmaker, is said to have been the first person to have survived the jump from the 41-metre (135-foot) bridge when he performed the stunt.

But after jumping, rather than resurfacing at the same spot, as Brodie did, Blaine was thinking of miraculously reappearing at a different landmark in the city.

While Brodie's name has entered US folklore with the expression "to do a Brodie", meaning to dive or to fall (literally or figuratively), Blaine seems to be obsessed with another American legend.


He has spoken of his admiration for Harry Houdini, whose feats included escaping from jail cells, handcuffed bridge jumps, padlocked crates thrown into rivers and locked canvas mailbags.

There are many parallels between Blaine and Houdini. Both men began as magicians then saw their careers take off when they concentrated on escapes.

Harry Houdini
Harry Houdini is considered one of the US's greatest illusionists
Blaine's taste for death-defying stunts - surviving 35 hours on a 30-metre (100ft) pole, 61 hours inside a block of ice and 44 days in a box - and his promotional knack are the same characteristics that made Houdini a legend in his own time.

Blaine is reported to have earned 600,000 from TV rights for his Above the Below stunt in London in 2003 - that's 13,636 a day for sitting in a glass box.

But he is not content with equalling his hero.

With Drowned Alive, Blaine wanted to eclipse a similar Houdini stunt, where he would go three minutes without air while freeing himself from his shackles inside an oversize milk can.

"On the way to holding his breath under water for the longest period of time ever, he would surpass the great Houdini, who managed a then-astonishing three-minute breath-hold," read the media notice for Blaine's stunt.

'Death defying'

In fact, the promotional material was peppered with the kind of circus act superlatives that would have accompanied a Houdini show at the turn of the 20th Century.

"David Blaine, known for his headline-making feats of physical, emotional and mental endurance, will once again put his life on the line in a death defying attempt to hold his breath underwater longer than any human being," read a press notice.

Blaine insists he is not an illusionist but a performance artist and his stunts, inspired by his late mother's brave fight against cancer, prove his ability to put mind over matter.

After using lines giving nutrition and air to stay alive under water for a week, Blaine removed his air supply and wanted to break the world record for holding breath.

He wanted to hold his breath inside a purpose built aquarium for more than eight minutes and 58 seconds, a record set by German-born free-diver Tom Sietas in December 2004.


As with his previous antics, the pre-event publicity went into great detail about his preparation, which he described as "the most gruelling physical training of my life".

The 33-year-old prepared for this for more than 12 months, following a rigid diet and training with the US Navy Seals and a world-class team of free-divers.

Before the record attempt, Mark Harris, press officer for the British Freediving Association, said Blaine would need to remain calm and focussed.

"If you are rattled at all, it will raise your metabolism," he said. "That means your heart beat goes faster and you start to burn your oxygen reserves."

His press notice firmly stated Drowned Alive would "attempt to answer all previous doubters who have questioned whether Blaine has resorted to the use of body doubles, mirrors of other trickery in completing his past arduous challenges".

Whether it was enough to convince the sceptics is another question.

Blaine plans underwater challenge
25 Apr 06 |  Entertainment
Blaine voted top 'loser' of 2003
29 Dec 03 |  Showbiz
Blaine in hospital after stunt
20 Oct 03 |  TV and Radio

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