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HomeFreedivingDavid Blaine: Drowned Alive? Part IV

David Blaine: Drowned Alive? Part IV

“Well then”, he said, gazing at the sphere and stroking his upper lip. “It seems to me a metaphor for the collective holding of all humanity’s breath.”


In New York City it doesn’t matter what you hear, it only matters what you overhear. New York, where a complete stranger, a Central Casting Upper West Side Intellectual complete with tweed sport jacket has this to say to me about that. That being David Blaine, The Person in the Waterball, as he’s now called in certain Manhattan salons. Person, yes ? I’m beginning to see myself joining those demanding a look at the catheter. I’d like to break the scoop to the Upper West Side: David Blaine, the Person in the Waterball, is a man. But then I’d never, ever have lunch in this town again.

It’s just now dark in Manhattan. The lights are on, and the sphere is a giant blue cat’s eye.

David Blaine Opera Goers
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

Dr. Ruden, Physician to the Stars, is concerned about David’s skin, among many other things. The hands, of course, but now the rest of him, too. The palms of the hands, he explains, are hyperkeratotic tissue: the cell turnover is very fast. Born, live, die fast. There are a lot of dead cells on the palms, and dead cells don’t give a fig about homeostasis. They get jerked around by whatever the environment throws at them, and when it’s immersion in water the prune effect is the result.

David Blaine Day 4 Hand 1
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

David Blaine Day 4 Hand 2
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

Same for the soles of the feet, by the way. But David’s been complaining of itching all over his body, and Dr. Ruden has noted some bumps here and there, as if there were bubbles just under the skin.

Even a protein filter!

The stuff in the sphere is, roughly speaking, an isotonic saline solution. Recirculated, filtered for everything in Creation. “There’s even a protein filter !” whispers an earnest young assistant to somebody.  Dr. Ruden tells me the 96 degrees Farenheit maintained inside the sphere is actually forcing David Blaine’s body to try to cool itself, 91 Farenheit being the theoretical neutral point for the body’s thermostats. This is news to me. “So he’s sweating like a pig?” I ask. “Sure”, the doctor assures me, “But it’s not doing any good. It can’t cool him”.

David Blaine - Martin in Control
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

Especially not when the fluid temperature rises to 98 F, as it did earlier today during a filter change. The pumps were stopped, and as the crew marveled at the gunk in and on the filter elements the sun beat down on the sphere. The optical properties of David Blaine’s aquarium are such that the sun’s radiant energy is focussed and concentrated. It got hot in there, and fast. The crew scrambled to cover the sphere with a white sheet. “One of the grips found a point on the ground where the sunlight was focused by the glass”, a security guard recounted, “And he lit a cigarette in it.”  Mmmmm….no. Don’t think so, but magic’s magic, so who knows ?

Pat Smith is the PR czar for the event, and he claimed that at 79 hours into the 177–hour schedule, some 160,000 spectators had filed up the ramps and viewed the Person in the Waterball.  My own traffic samplings were quite consistent with that figure. “When he wakes up tomorrow”, Smith announced,”He’ll be past the halfway point.” That being the case, any celebrities looking to score face time had better do what Rosie O’Donnell and David Arquette did today and get on down to Lincoln Center. The people who came today did well. David got nearly six hours’ sleep overnight and was refreshed and frisky. Very interactive.

Martin reports that the spectators are loving it. “Ninety-eight percent positive feedback. The other two percent are undecideds. There’s the kind that says ‘Hey, I could do that myself ‘ and the other kind that says ‘What’s the point ?’ . I haven’t heard a single negative comment.”  The audiences inside Avery Fisher Hall and the New York State Theatre, bien pensants and congoscenti all, are no different, just on a higher plane: they fill the balconies at intermissions and stare down upon David Blaine and the hoi polloi.

Stress? What Stress!

Halfway through, roughly speaking. The world around David Blaine is a micro-economy of artistic, commercial, engineering, security, medical, and aquatics safety interests competing for space and priority while pursuing a common goal. The strain is beginning to show. Mandy loped into the crew enclosure an hour and a half before her shift as primary safety diver. She had a splitting headache, and groped for her key to the trailer. She needed more sleep. So does everybody else. Dr. Ruden issued a warning: “The growing problem now will be cockiness.” Right. This thing could go south in a heartbeat, even though the massed competence of the support people is formidable indeed. David Blaine has everything he needs on hand to carry him through.

David Blaine - Mandy Rae Arrives
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

Dr. Gunel, the brain surgeon, isn’t so sure. He’s not at all happy about his friend David Blaine’s current project. His foreboding is apparent as he stalks the crew enclosure, brow furrowed, conferring with Kirk, Martin, a New York Times ( “All The News That’s Fit To Print”) reporter, and with colleagues by telephone.

David Blaine - Dr Gunnel and Reporter
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

Thing is, nobody’s ever done this before. The first half may have already consumed 90% of the available resources of performer and crew. The second half may require the other 90%.

There’s More!

Read more coverage of the David Blaine event from Paul in our David Blaine: Drowned Alive? Special Feature Series and check out the Photo Gallery and Audio Interviews!

Paul Kotik
Paul Kotik
Paul Kotik has been a Staff Writer and Freediving Editor for He lives in Florida, USA with his family.