This week, magician David Blaine will outdo his previous stunts of being buried alive and turned into a human ice cube, by performing a death-defying stunt that no one else has dared even attempt.
"This is my next challenge," he says of his plan to stand atop a 2-foot-wide pillar standing nearly 10 stories tall in New York City for two days and two nights, with no food, water, sleep, and nothing to sit or lean on. (He will have ankle-height handles to hang on to in case of any high winds.) Then, at the last hour, in a state of utter exhaustion, he'll jump off the pillar on live TV.
"This is my way of challenging every fear and using magic as performance," he says of the stunt that will air Wednesday night on ABC's David Blaine's Vertigo.
'Every Moment Is Honest'
Believe it or not, Blaine says there is a method to his madness.
"I'd like to revolutionize magic, make it unlike an art form anybody's ever seen," he says.
And he seems to be succeeding. Audiences have loved the Blaine mystique since the early '90s when his mystifying card tricks and signature gaze became a phenomenon. Soon he landed a network special, and gained enough celebrity to be profiled in magazines and parodied on South Park.
But Blaine wanted more: He wanted to be world-famous like his idol, Harry Houdini.
"There's been so many great magicians, but the public remembers Houdini," he says. "And the reason they remember Houdini, is because he understood how to captivate the public's imagination."
Blaine realized that he could as well, by performing spectacular feats of endurance that test human fears. His first stunt was in 1999, when he buried himself alive in a coffin for seven days and seven nights. A year later, he was again entombed, this time for 62 hours nestled between two blocks of ice. Afterward, he says he couldn't walk for three days.
"It's like my own personal wake-up call. It's like putting myself in a situation where everything is real. There's no bull and every moment is honest," he says.
His critics scoff. Just two days ago, Fox ran a special debunking his ice performance as the trick of an illusionist. Others say he's no more than a publicity hound.
"I'll outlive all of that," he says of the nay-sayers' reproach. "Because what I'm doing is pure."
Blaine Seeks to 'Tame Fear'
While people may disagree about that, there's no questioning that his stunts are off-the-wall. Blaine has swallowed a live snake, he's fantasized about jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge or hanging off a skyscraper — nothing, it seems, is too risky. And each stunt has an increased amount of danger, he says, "to keep it interesting."
In his new show, called Vertigo, Blaine incorporates danger and imagery from the past: pole sitters from the 1920s, and San Simeon, a fifth-century saint who lived atop a pillar to get closer to God.
"I love the image of a man on a pillar alone in the world," says Blaine, who is training for his upcoming stunt in the hill country outside Los Angeles with the help of famed stuntman Bob Brown.
Not that he offered much encouragement: "I don't know any stuntmen that would really want to do this," says Brown.
Taming fear is what Blaine believes magic is all about.
But he also says there's a guardian angel watching over him, possibly his mother who died of cancer when he was 19. Though Blaine sees his magic and stunts as a tribute to her memory, he knows she probably would have worried about his safety — an issue that also gets in the way of his romantic life and a possible future with a family.
"I know that if I had kids I wouldn't want to put them through the feeling that their father's in danger," he says. "Which is why I am reluctant to get into a relationship and think about that right now."
'I'll Just Fly'
For the next five days, Blaine has only one thing on his mind: staying alive.
As if the stunt weren't dangerous enough, he's got one more risky surprise in store: Instead of jumping into a cushy airbag, he'll be leaping into a pile of empty cardboard boxes.
"If he doesn't land right, it could be really bad," says Brown. If, when he leaps, he strays a foot from center in either direction, Blaine could wind up paralyzed or dead.
"I'll just fly," he says, confident that even after 35 hours, and even if his legs are like rubber, he'll be able to make the jump.
He has a word for his ability to make people wonder, if only for a moment, about what they really can and cannot do. He calls it "magic."