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Last Updated: Monday, 20 October, 2003, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Blaine in hospital after stunt
David Blaine after stepping out of the box
Blaine told the crowds they had been "wonderful"
Illusionist David Blaine is recovering in a private hospital after walking free from his Perspex box in London on Sunday night at the end of a 44-day starvation stunt.

Crowds had packed the area near London's Tower Bridge to see the 30-year-old American emerge at 2200 BST, clearly weakened by his apparent endurance test.

The illusionist will undergo tests to discover whether he has suffered any long-term damage from his starvation stunt.

In the UK, the end of the stunt attracted a TV audience of 2.5 million viewers to digital channel Sky One.

"This has been one of the most important experiences in my life," he said, before breaking down into sobs during the live show on Sky One.

After his release, Blaine - who had nothing but water during his stunt - was put on a stretcher by paramedics and taken to hospital.

Blaine's box was tipped on its side to allow the illusionist to walk out.

David Blaine emerges after 44 days

To cries of "take your time" from his aides, Blaine took the microphone and told how his experience had been an education.

"I have learned more in that box than I have in years," he said.

"I learnt how strong we all are as human beings.

"Most importantly I learnt to appreciate all the simple things in life such as the smile from a stranger, and the sunshine and the sunset."

His girlfriend, Manon von Gerkan, greeted him and walked beside his stretcher.

About 10,000 people who looked on were mostly good humoured and full of words of support for the illusionist.

Christine Hunt, 44, who travelled from Doncaster, Yorkshire, said: "We've already been down once to see him and I think it's brilliant, what he's doing."

A nutritional expert has warned that Blaine risks death if extreme care is not taken when he begins eating again.

Professor Marinof Elia, from the University of Southampton, said the illusionist could be at risk from serious problems, including a ruptured stomach and sudden death.

Blaine crowd
About 10,000 people packed the area to watch Blaine's exit
The magician described suffering severe heart palpitations, blurred vision and breathing difficulties as his fast neared its end.

Blaine went straight to a clinic where a team of doctors will assess whether he has done lasting damage to his heart or other organs.

His spokesman said he would now gradually build up his strength with mineral supplements and foodstuffs.

His team has dismissed suggestions that Blaine has kept himself alive by having dissolved nutrients such as glucose added to his water supply, saying that the water was pure.

It is thought that it could take as long as six months for Blaine to recover his muscle strength and return to his normal fitness.

Now sporting a straggly beard and long hair, Blaine spent much of the weekend huddled up in his sleeping bag against the cold.

Sky One, which has been filming Blaine's progress, said an estimated 250,000 people visited the site by the end of the stunt.

Spectators gathering below the box
Blaine had views of Tower Bridge and the River Thames
Since the magician entered the Perspex box he has had to contend with a campaign of "Blaine-baiting" with passers-by taunting him.

Golf balls have been driven at him, eggs thrown, paint bombs shot at his box and drums banged to keep him awake at night.

Earlier this week Blaine denied it was all a trick in an interview with US news channel CNN.

"No, I am really here doing what I said I was going to do," he said.

"I have never decided to do anything for this length of time."


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's David Sillito
"While he survived the hunger, the real danger is eating again"



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