Blaine, David: 1973—: Magician and Daredevil
David Blaine: 1973—: Magician and daredevil
Part magician, part street performer, and perhaps part mystic, David Blaine emerged as one of the entertainment world's most intriguing figures in the late 1990s. Blaine grabbed public attention with a series of amazing televised feats, including spending three days encased in a block of ice. He became known for approaching ordinary individuals on the street in an un-assuming way and dazzling them with magic effects. Blaine has cultivated an intense, mysterious image, and while some observers in the magic community have felt that his tricks could easily be duplicated, most have agreed that his presentation was extraordinary in its effectiveness. In his ability to command sheer fascination from the public, Blaine has sometimes been compared with the greatest magician of them all, Harry Houdini.
Like past performers who cultivated an air of eccentric charisma—he has named Orson Welles and Charlie Chaplin as inspirations in this regard—Blaine has remained extremely close-mouthed about his own background. He was born on April 4, 1973, in Brooklyn, New York, and Blaine is his middle name. He has used various last names, including that of his mother, Patrice White, and it has been reported that his father was a half-Puerto Rican, half-Italian-American Vietnam War veteran who abandoned the family when Blaine was three years old. Blaine wrote in his magic manual-cum-autobiography, Mysterious Stranger, that he grew up in Brooklyn. His mother, he wrote, was his prime inspiration: "No matter what I did, she encouraged me."
Constantly Practiced Card Tricks
By the time he was five, Blaine had decided that he was going to become a performer. At mealtimes his hands were constantly busy practicing card manipulations. After several years of bouncing between welfare and low-wage jobs, Blaine's mother remarried and moved the family to suburban New Jersey; his stepfather John Bukalo told People that "magic was David's obsession and passion." Blaine never did magic tricks for school-mates—he didn't think they'd be interested—but he constantly honed his craft. By the end of his high school years, he was performing at private parties.
Blaine's apprenticeship ended with his mother's death from ovarian cancer. He recalled in an interview with the London Mirror that being told she was dying was like "walking into a room blindfolded and getting smacked in the face with a baseball bat." In the early 1990s Blaine began to promote himself energetically as a performer. Studying acting at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse, he developed his trademark method of accosting strangers and drawing them into his magical world. Sometimes he would videotape these encounters. In 1994 these efforts brought him an agent, Jon Podell, who represented top acts such as singer Michael Bolton. Blaine walked into Podell's office and asked him to think of a card. Then he sent the agent out to a convenience store to buy a new deck of cards. Upon unwrapping the deck, the agent found only one card—the one he had thought of.
At a Glance . . .
Born on April 4, 1973, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Patrice White. Education: Studied acting at Neighborhood Playhouse, New York.
Career: Magician. Began performing magic and card tricks at private parties, early 1990s; signed with agent Jon Podell, 1994; television special David Blaine: Street Magic, ABC television, 1997; Magic Man television special, 1998; Frozen in Time television special, New York City, 2000; published book Mysterious Stranger, 2002.
Addresses: Agent— c/o Jon Podell, ICM, 8942 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90211. Website— http://www. davidblaine.com.
His breakthrough came when the ABC network aired his self-produced special, David Blaine: Street Magic, in 1997. The show, which featured a levitation act that had previously baffled Blaine's personal physician, was a hit, and the buzz surrounding his exploits grew intense in New York City's entertainment community. Blaine came to number filmmakers Woody Allen and Spike Lee among his fans, and youthful folk-rock star Fiona Apple and actress Daryl Hannah were among several high-profile women with whom Blaine was rumored to be romantically linked. "I want to do for magic what Ali did for boxing," Blaine told People at the time. Blaine hung a picture of Muhammed Ali on the wall of his Manhattan apartment. And the ID number of World War II concentration camp survivor Primo Levi is tattooed on his arm.
Spent 61 Hours in Ice Block
To promote his second television special, 1998's Magic Man, Blaine embarked on the first of several stunts that were part feats of endurance, part performance art: he had himself buried alive for a week in a glass coffin under a New York sidewalk, and likened his emerging from the coffin to being born. Two years later came a more daring burial: Blaine, almost nude, stood sealed between the two halves of an eight-foot tall, five-foot deep block of Alaskan ice in Times Square, and televised the ordeal on a 2000 television special, Frozen in Time. He told Entertainment Weekly that he had investigated "very ancient and secretive methods" of maintaining his normal body temperature, including ointments used by people living in cold climates.
Blaine had planned to spend three entire days and nights in the ice, but emerged after just over 61 hours. "My thoughts were perfectly normal until I reached a turning point when I was sure I was dead," he told the London Independent. "I didn't know where I was. I was surrounded by thousands of people who were all staring at me, but I couldn't communicate with any of them.… Strange, indecipherable thoughts shot through my brain. I kept hearing the Munchkin song from The Wizard of Oz, but the tempo was speeded up." The magician also had a hallucination, in which his girlfriend waved at him from outside the ice and then vanished.
Blaine also sat atop a 90-foot pole in Manhattan's Bryant Park for 35 hours, after which he jumped off into a stack of cardboard boxes. But the magician, who had hoped to make each successive stunt more death-defying than the last, rated the ice ordeal as his most difficult. Blaine has stated that his future plans include jumping from a helicopter into the Thames River in London, while bound with rope, handcuffed, and wearing lead boots. Such a stunt would be reminiscent of Houdini's famous escape from beneath the waters of New York's East River.
Blaine has also stated his wish to take a bullet in the chest—something that he noted has already killed more than 100 magicians. Plans for such stunts may have crossed the line from magic into an artistic rumination on life, death, and survival in extreme situations. According to Newsday, Blaine has quoted the German poet Schiller to the effect that "the man who fears nothing is as powerful as he who is feared by everybody." Answering a young English questioner in the pages of the London Mirror, he said that the greatest magic trick ever accomplished was "returning from the dead," and he called Jesus Christ a magician.
Blaine's reflective side surfaced as well in his 2002 book Mysterious Stranger, which turned the tables on those who debunked Blaine's tricks by freely revealing the secrets to many of them. The book also contained clues that would direct a persistent reader to a gold sphere, redeemable for $100,000, that was buried somewhere in the United States, and it delved into the history and literature of magic. Adding up his exploits, many observers have concluded that Blaine may have a death wish, but Blaine has disagreed. "I have a life wish," he told the London Mirror. "If I had a death wish, why wouldn't I just get a gun?"
Blaine, David, Mysterious Stranger: A Book of Magic, Villard, 2002.
Entertainment Weekly, July 21, 2000, p. 20; November 22, 2002, p. 36.
Independent (London, England), December 5, 2002, p. Features-7.
Mirror (London, England), November 28, 2002, p. 16.
Newsday (New York, NY), November 7, 2002, p. B6.
People, May 26, 1997, p. 124; December 29, 1997, p.141.
Publishers Weekly, October 14, 2002, p. 78.
Time, May 19, 1997, p. 97.
"David Blaine," Biography Resource Center Online, http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (March 26, 2003).
—James M. Manheim
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