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Last Updated: Friday, 5 September, 2003, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Blaine: King of illusion
David Blaine
Blaine started performing magic at the age of four
Few magicians achieve the worldwide status of David Blaine, the enigmatic US illusionist who is set to test the limits of the human body by starving himself for 44 days as he is suspended over the River Thames in London.

His challenges have taken on an almost Houdini-like quality as each one gets bigger and more extravagant.

But there are also criticisms levelled at him that he is a publicity seeker, and that his feats are just an extension of his magic act, simply illusions.

His latest escapade will see him live in a clear plastic box for six weeks, with only a water tube to sustain him.

It builds on previous stunts which have seen him suspended in an ice block and "buried alive" in a glass coffin.

But away from the big spectacles, Blaine started out like most magicians, plying his trade with sleight of hand magic.

The Brooklyn-born magician has been performing tricks since the age of four and, during the mid-1990s, after establishing himself as a master of close magic in the bars of New York and New Jersey, he set out for the west coast.

Levitation

Before long Blaine had become a favourite of the superstar party circuit, where he charmed Hollywood's great and good, and was soon hanging out with Madonna, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio.

David Blaine
One stunt saw him "buried alive" in a coffin for a week
Armed with this illustrious following he walked into ABC's Manhattan office in 1997 and treated the company's executives to a series of card tricks before sealing a million-dollar television contract by levitating right there in the boardroom.

The fast-paced documentary style of his Street Magic shows has proved an instant hit throughout the world, dusting-off and reinvigorating magic's image.

His street conjuring has stunned people from Brooklyn to Brazil, Hammersmith to Haiti.

He will ask a passer-by to pick a card and put it back in the pack before throwing the cards at a nearby shop window. All the cards will fall to the ground. All, that is, except the chosen card, which will appear behind the window.

A woman is asked to give Blaine the name of a special friend. As she does, he points out a yellow taxi driving past with the name, Dawn, written on its door.

Alarming

Wristwatches speed up, a beggar's cup fills to the brim with coins, cards appear in beer bottles and back pockets, and then the pièce-de-résistance. Without any apparent effort, David Blaine rises six inches in the air slap-bang in the middle of a bar full of incredulous drinkers.

Then there was his much talked-about Peugeot TV commercial featuring his catchphrase, "This is not your card. I repeat, this is not your card."

David Blaine
Blaine was entombed in a block of ice in 2000

Unlike other TV magicians, there is little humour to his act, coming across as an intense and focused man, which often alarms those he plays tricks on.

He speaks of needing to "affect" those for whom he performs, to touch a personal nerve.

"My favourite part is when I connect," he says.

"If there's no connection, there's no magic."

Promotion

Blaine then wanted to test himself and his body, using imagination-capturing feats to promote his TV specials and books.

He bills them as tests of human endurance, but the fact he is an illusionist creates scepticism about how he achieves them.

Among his feats was standing on atop an 80 foot pole in Manhattan for 34 hours, before jumping off into a stack of cardboard boxes.

Blaine has previously spent 61 hours encased in a block of ice and has been buried underground in a coffin for a week, all in the name of magic.

It is unlikely it will take Blaine long to get itchy feet for another challenge.

And after spending 44 days alone in a box with no more possessions than a pen, diary, lip balm and some nappies, the illusionist will have plenty of time to come up with a crazy stunt to top this one.




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