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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 May 2006, 08:34 GMT 09:34 UK
Blaine's stunt takes breath away
By Damian Fowler
in New York

David Blaine
Blaine is spending a week living in a sphere filled with water
David Blaine's latest death-defying act is quite literally breathtaking.

On Monday, the magician immersed himself in a human-sized goldfish bowl, an 8ft (2.4m) sphere filled with water where he'll live for a week.

He will use oxygen and feeding tubes to sustain him during the stunt.

As a dramatic finale to this soggy scenario, Blaine will attempt to break the world record by holding his breath for nine minutes whilst trying to escape from heavy chains.

This Houdini-inspired stunt will be broadcast live on national television.

Before he took the plunge, the 33-year-old addressed a friendly audience of New York fans who turned out to see him in the heavily-tattooed flesh.

Escape from chains

He was somewhat sanguine about the risks involved.

"As well as holding my breath for nine minutes, hopefully, I will have to escape from all these chains. And if not, I will drown and we'll see something pretty insane," he said with a smile.

Blaine trained with professional freedivers, who specialise in reaching great depths with a single breath.

Although the water temperature will be managed to make sure his body temperature remains stable at 36C, there are still major risks including hypothermia, blackouts and brain damage.

David Blaine
Oxygen and feeding tubes will sustain Blaine while in the sphere
"It's kind of like going into zero gravity," said Kirk Krack, a freediving expert who is working as Blaine's personal trainer for this challenge.

"You have a shift in the physiology, blood moves to the core and gets pulled away from the extremities."

Blaine's inspiration

This stunt is a long way from the magic tricks that first made Blaine a star. Some have dubbed this performance art, others consider it madness.

So what inspired him to do this?

"As a kid I was always obsessed with Houdini, who always did underwater stunts," he said.

"He would get shackled up and put into swimming pools and he would escape before he drowned. And those images always sparked an interest."

Blaine's human aquarium is on full public view, right in the middle of the plaza at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Whether opera lovers on route to this week's performance of Wagner's Lohengrin will appreciate the illusionist's daring dunk remains to be seen.

But the idea is that people will be able to walk up to the sphere, touch it, take photographs and offer support.

Support from fans

Blaine sounded upbeat about getting positive feelings from his public.

David Blaine
Blaine risks hypothermia, blackouts and brain damage during the stunt
"I love New York. This is my hometown," he said, "so the idea of creating an aquarium that was a sphere and putting it in the middle of New York was more than anything I could ever have dreamed for in my entire life. I feel very lucky."

In 2003, Londoners were less impressed with his last death-defying stunt.

Suspended in a glass box without food for 44 days, Blaine was subjected to verbal abuse, not to mention a torrent of distractions such as golf balls, eggs and food of all shapes and smells.

However, New Yorkers promise to be more supportive. A gaggle of ballet dancers from the nearby Julliard School were excited about the whole endeavour.

"I think it's art, it's unique. It's the most exciting thing that Lincoln Center has had in a while," commented one of the ballerinas.

'Like a god'

Other adoring fans went further. "This event seems so big and so important, in some sort of way so holy," said Judith Derrien.

"He's got this great amount of presence like he carries something so great within him."

"He's like a god in a mortal body," added Hector Rodriguez. "I think he's just showing everyone there's nothing that man cannot do. He can do everything and anything."

So, if cleanliness is next to godliness, after a week, David Blaine might be approaching the status of a deity. But probably not.

One question quickly reminded everyone of Blaine's human limitations. What happens when he needs to go to the toilet?

"My system is completely empty and I did that so there's no waste that has to ever come out, so that in the sphere I don't have to use the bathroom," he said.

"I have a catheter in case I have to do a number one but I don't intend on doing anything else."

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