Saturday, July 13, 2024
HomeFreedivingDavid Blaine: Drowned Alive? Part VI

David Blaine: Drowned Alive? Part VI

Tick Tock

With exactly 24 hours left to get it all right, it’s gut check time at Lincoln Center. Everybody has a script. Most people have the latest version. The run-through starting at 8 PM tonight is a full dress rehearsal for the Grand Finale.

The crowd has been moved back from the sphere, but presses against the outer barriers. My new buddy A., the US Marine and Deputy Sheriff, is off-duty but shows up anyway. Eight years in the Corps and a Middle Eastern war under his belt taught A. a bit about things like endurance, and pain – he’s now a Blaine fan. The security contractor he part-times for has thirty hard men deployed tonight and will maintain that force level until the event ends.

The area around the sphere is now a television sound stage.  Show business rules the roost.  Kirk Krack stands on the ramp, alone with David Blaine in the cameras’ cross-hairs. A monstrous boom with a remote-operated camera swoops over the set, finding those impossible shots, while a helicopter hovers absolutely still about 1,000 up and to the east. Pedal-to-the-metal Big Time Network Television.

David Blaine - Mandy-Rae with Starbucks
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

The run-through is in real time, with the narrator’s voice booming over the massed loudspeaker arrays. The spectators are eager participants, obliging the master of ceremonies with lusty roars, whistles and catcalls. The action pauses for commercial spots, the ones that will pay the bills and rake in the profits for tomorrow’s broadcast. It wraps a few minutes ahead of schedule, with all setups paid off and all loops closed. The suits at ABC will love that – a few more minutes’ commercial time to sell.

The script is in continuous revision – that’s de rigeur for productions of this sort. The version played out this night served as my come-uppance.

To Breath-Hold or Not To Breath-Hold

Did it center itself around the World Record Breath-Hold meme?

It  did.  If I had a wet kiss for every application of that term to David Blaine’s planned apnea, I’d feel well-loved indeed. And did the giant video screen at Lincoln Center show that nightmare bottom camera footage of Audrey Mestre opening the valve of an empty tank, and of her lifeless body being dragged from the water ?

David Blaine - Audrey Mestre on big Screen
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

Yes, it did. Oh, did it.

Did I feel slapped, rolled and gutted ? Yep. But not surprised. Sure, the talk all along had been about playing down the references to what is properly AIDA’s turf, the world record thing. And Heavens, how morbid would it be to bring up the horror of poor Audrey’s last dive ?  But look, this is show business. Television.  Nobody really ever believed it would be about anything other than ratings.  Nor should it be – that is what television is. No secret there, no scandal. Everybody involved puts something in, everybody gets something out. Some get rather more than others. Don’t like it ? Don’t watch it. I mostly don’t.

I’m a cynical fellow, but I’ve been sucked into the drama. I’m genuinely worried about David Blaine’s fate. One needn’t have access to his current physiologicals (and I do not) to know that they’re such as would fill any country doctor’s heart with dread. This guy’s kidneys and liver must be in full intifada mode, his all-over skin pathology is plainly visible to all, and my eye tells me his intestines are not happy. I think he’s sustained massive systemic  – multi-systemic – injury, and whatever happens tomorrow he has a long road to recovery ahead of him.

He’s going straight from the sphere to a hospital – whether on life support or not is anybody’s guess. The medical gear arrayed around the sphere would suffice to provide field services to a Third World village.

I know it’s only a show. I know the people who put it on, for Heaven’s sake! Nevertheless, I’m caught up in it and am on the edge of my seat. They are masters of the craft.

The Impact

It’s time, too, to face the fact that the yield from David Blaine’s stunt for diving in general and for freediving, in particular, is a big unknown. There’s no question at all that Blaine has brought the sight of a human being underwater to hundreds of thousands of visitors who’d never seen such a thing before. The great underwater photographers like Bob Talbot have brought our underwater world before the landbound in film, on screens small, large and extremely large – but David Blaine has brought the underwater world itself to the city square. People all over New York – and that means people from all over the world – are talking about the man in the sphere, trying to get their heads around the things so familiar to us as divers. What will they remember when this is all over? And what will they do with it?

David Blaine - Spectators
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

That depends to some degree on what the outcome of David Blaine’s climactic stunt is.

There’s certainly downside potential here – a great awakening to the menace to society posed by suicidal maniacs who hold their breath underwater and die. Pools closed to us, dive boats banning us – banished again, as in the pre- Big Blue era, to the margins of civilized society.

But one thing that human beings do very well is to forget bad things. We’re famous as a species for doing the same old disasters over and over, and since we are (aren’t we ?) rational, it must be that we put them out of mind. The Blaine event has brought a lot of beauty to new eyes, and one hopes that is what will linger. Bob Talbot’s Cayman footage of David, which animated the commercial spots during the run-up to the stunt and which dominate the TV special recorded portions, is simply stunning. Let it be seen.

David Blaine - Sphere all Dark
Copyright 2006 Paul Kotik/

If it takes a stunt like this to bring the underwater world before the millions who might otherwise live and die unaware, history may render a wholly positive verdict of Drowned Alive!  If the stunt goes bad tomorrow, we may take a hit before things get better. We may feel used and abused by Big Media  – but we will recover, stronger than before.

The road to Fame and Glory ?

‘Tis easy to express !

They screw you every time,

But less and less, and less.

Eighteen hours to showtime. Whatever goes down, it’ll be one hell of a show.

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.