Escape Artist Hospitalized After Water Stunt in Criss Angel Show Describes What Happened

Spencer Horsman attempted to perform a water torture cell escape.

September 17, 2015, 9:48 PM

— -- Escape artist Spencer Horsman, who had to be rescued from a water torture cell in June during a rehearsal for a Criss Angel show, was rushed to the hospital on Tuesday after trying to perform the stunt again in front of a live audience.

“I was half way through it when I started getting light headed and started getting a headache underwater and I remember making it through the entire escape,” Horsman told “Nightline” in an exclusive interview.

Watch the full story on "Nightline" tonight at 12:35 a.m. ET.

Horsman is part of Las Vegas-based illusionist Criss Angel’s new ensemble show, “The Supernaturalists,” currently in a four-week tour. “Nightline” was given an exclusive backstage pass as Horsman attempted the death-defying water escape at the State Theater in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Horsman climbed into a 30-inch Plexiglas tank filled with about 100 gallons of water. He was wrapped in chains and padlocks, and hoisted high above the crowd.

Then, at the apex of the event, something happened and Horsman became distressed. Emergency crews stepped in and pulled him out of the tank. Once he came to, he appeared confused, but insisted he was fine. He was then taken to the hospital.

“I remember opening the last lock but then for whatever reason not fully getting it. It slipped out of my hand,” he told “Nightline.” “The last thing I remember after that was waking up on the ground with EMTs.”

Before he made his attempt, Horsman told “Nightline” he had made this escape 100 times. Risking life seems to come with the territory for Horsman and perhaps the critical ingredient for audiences who have come to expect it.

“There’s an old quote, which for all that we’re aware of that Houdini actually said, ... 'People do not enjoy watching somebody else, another human being get injured, get hurt, get killed, but they love to be in a spot where it happens,’” Horsman said. “So again, hopefully there’s nobody here looking to see me get hurt.”

But what he finds the most agonizing now, he said, is the failure.

“I take pride in what I do,” Horsman said. “I want to be successful as a performer. And again it doesn’t matter if it’s a sleight-of-hand trick or doing an escape. I’m there to entertain, that’s why I’m there. That’s all I’ve ever done, that’s all I know.”

“I’m happy that the audience is happy, and if I fail at one of my presentations at one of my escapes then I failed as a performer,” he continued. “Now, granted they may have gotten some kind of thrill from it, but it ultimately at the end of the day wasn’t the thrill I was looking for.”

Criss Angel, who was on scene, could relate to how disappointed Horsman felt.

“I know what my family goes through when they watch me do an escape because you feel helpless,” he said. “I support him but unfortunately this is not the type of publicity I want.”

Angel’s show, “The Supernaturalists,” combines magic and showmanship, but the dangers the performers risk in their stunts are real. It is billed as completely unscripted and unpredictable entertainment, all to thrill increasingly skeptical audiences.

“This is as real as it gets,” Angel told “Nightline.” “And I would just say to all the kids that are watching this right now. Don’t try to be a superhero. Don’t try to do any of these things, in your pool, in your bathtub, because you could actually kill yourself.”

“People like ourselves that are professionals and do this for a living,” he continued. “We get caught up and hurt many of times.”

Back in June, Horsman, who has asthma, had attempted the escape during a rehearsal for the show when something went horribly wrong. At the time, he said was locked under 25 feet worth of chain with over a dozen padlocks and handcuffs, and suspended inside a water tank 30 feet in the air, when he became trapped and blacked out. Criss Angel jumped in to pull him out.

After he was taken to the hospital for this recent mishap, skeptics jumped on social media, wondering if the show was all part of a publicity stunt. After all, a second brush with death in just a few months might seem hard to believe.

“I’m a performer. The show must go on,” he said. “So yes, I’ve had accidents with this, I’ve had accidents with all my escapes. But for me, being an entertainer, I want to keep performing.”

There have been other instances of high-flying, high-adrenaline feats gone wrong. Also in June, eight young women performing a “human chandelier” stunt with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus fell 40 feet on stage. All were critically injured but all survived.

In Brooklyn’s Coney Island, a big part of performer Ray Valenz’s act is sword swallowing. During the course of a typical show day, Valenz says he will swallow a sword about 25 times. If something goes wrong, Valenz could suffer from a host of injuries from internal bleeding to a punctured esophagus or a perforated lungs and even death.

“Someone who says sword swallowing is inherently dangerous would be absolutely right because I am doing that every time I swallow a sword,” he said. “I do it so I can entertain people and to be an entertainer. ... I have to defy death in the process then so be it.”

As for whether Spencer Horsman plans to keep trying the water torture cell escape, he said "most people" think he probably should stop performing the act, but he hasn’t ruled anything out yet.

“I’m currently in conversation with Chris about modifying the escape,” he said. “We already have a lot of safety precautions and again the crew is trained. I trust all of them with my life, obviously.”

“I want to keep performing,” he added. “I don’t want to disappoint the audience or anyone else that’s attending to see the escape.”

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