WASHINGTON — His death-defying stunts have made him the Houdini of our generation.
This weekend, magician David Blaine dazzles MGM National Harbor on Sunday at 8 p.m.
“The show is actually my most difficult, crazy endurance challenge of my career,” Blaine told WTOP. “It’s a whole bunch of things I’ve worked on my entire life. If I do one, it’s usually on its own months or years apart. … But this is all of them combined into one night, combined with magic … plus me pushing my body more than I ever have for any single show I’ve ever done.”
If you arrive early, you might even be able to catch Blaine doing tricks outside the theater.
“Before the show … to get some energy, what I do is wander into the crowd a little bit. So in the lobby at like 7:30, I’ll be doing close-up magic a little bit, mixing in with the audience.”
Born in 1973, how did an impressionable young Blaine get into magic in the first place?
“I grew up in Brooklyn and had a single mother,” Blaine said. “We didn’t have many things, but she used to always give me the opportunity to see as much as I could. We’d go to Coney Island, there was an aquarium there and they taught kids how to play with the underwater animals. I would see magicians at Coney Island, all the street performers, sword swallowers, guys doing rope tricks. She would always stop and let me watch. I was always fascinated.”
Soon after, his mother bought him a deck of cards so he could do his own tricks at age 5.
“I carried it everywhere,” Blaine said. “The librarian started walking me through a simple book of self-working card magic. When my mom came to pick me up, I did the tricks for her and she went crazy, even though they were just simple, anybody-can-do-it card tricks. But because of her reaction, I started wanting to learn even more to amaze her. So, it started with me amazing my mother and her friends, then it just became a passion that I never relented on.”
Obsessed with his new passion, he began researching the great magicians who went before.
“I discovered Houdini. He was the underwater master. He would escape from everything. I never wanted to copy him, but I looked at what he did. He was an escape artist and was always good at enduring things, so I went with the concept of an endurance artist. … In the middle of winter, I’d walk around with just a t-shirt. Not that I recommend any of these things, but I was always pushing myself to see how much I could endure without breaking myself.”
In 1996, he got his big break with the TV special “Street Magic.”
“When I turned on the TV, the only thing you would see is the ‘World’s Greatest Magic’ and it would be these magicians floating around on stage and doing all these big illusions,” Blaine said. “I focused on the reactions. I would run around doing magic for people and use my friend’s camera and just record those reactions. … I always felt like that was the coolest part.”
As crowds of all demographics gathered in awe, it became a selling point to the network.
“Whether you’re black, white, young, old, Jewish, Christian, rich or poor, I would just put all of these people together on a street and film them all laughing and reacting together — and that became the message,” Blaine said. “Eventually, ABC liked what I was doing and what I was saying, which was hat I was going to show through magic that all people are the same.”
He gained global attention with “Buried Alive,” staying in a plastic box for a week in New York City. He was later encased inside a six-ton block of ice for three days, stood atop a 100-foot pillar in Bryant Park for 36 hours, spent 44 days inside a transparent box in London while consuming only water, endured a million volts from seven Tesla coils for 72 hours, and spent a week submerged in an aquarium at Lincoln Center, setting the record for holding his breath.
Which of these death-defying stunts pushed him to the limit the most?
“Being in the block of ice, I almost went into shock. I just miscalculated that one. The pillar, I started to hallucinate on it, so that became really difficult. … In London, 44 days with nothing but water (caused) mild organ failure, but full recovery. The New England Journal of Medicine actually published a paper on it, which I’m pretty proud about: ‘The Receding of David Blaine.'”
Before each stunt, Blaine physically prepares with proper diet and exercise.
“Usually I’m fasting,” Blaine said. “I can’t eat anything because there’s an act I do where you use your stomach. … I drink a gallon of water so it’s in my stomach, drink kerosene, spit it out, blow fireballs, then extinguish the fire with the water in my stomach. … You need electrolytes so you don’t go into cardiac arrest, so I’m constantly drinking Pedialytes or coconut water.”
Once the stunt begins, how does he get into the proper mental state?
“What I’ve learned to do is I have an imaginary world that I travel through,” Blaine said. “I put myself in this meditative state, I move around in my mind to every body part and put everything to sleep, starting with my feet, legs, all the way up into the shoulders and the head. … I imagine the ocean itself and drifting into the abyss. There’s all sorts of amazing creatures.”
Of course, Blaine is still human, so there comes a point when his body starts to give out.
“When it starts to get really hard, I start to focus on pushing as far as I can and trying not to black out,” he said. “I push, push, push and try to go further and further every single night.”
His rare gift has allowed him to perform for presidents (Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton), athletes (Muhammad Ali), inventors (Bill Gates) and theorists (Stephen Hawking). But no matter how famous Blaine gets, he knows full well the dangers of his profession.
“(I’ll) hopefully not have a Harry Houdini type incident,” Blaine said. “After his water tank one night, he collapsed on stage, was rushed to the hospital and died on Halloween 1926. Therefore, (I’m) fortunately being very careful to make sure I’m preparing the best that I can.”
Find more details on David Blaine’s website. Listen to our full conversation with Blaine below:
WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with David Blaine (Full Interview)