October 19, 2003: David Blaine's 'Above the Below' glass box stunt ends after 44 days

After surviving 44 days without food, the illusionist was finally released from a Perspex box suspended above the banks of the river Thames on this day 12 years ago.

On September 5, 2003, American magician and illusionist David Blaine stepped into a transparent Plexiglass box on the south bank of the Thames, near Tower Bridge – and began an endurance stunt he called ‘Above the Below.’

For more than six weeks, 30-year-old Blaine was locked inside this 3x7x7-foot box – which was suspended 30ft in the air – without any food or nutrients. His only nourishment was 4.5 litres of water a day.

An estimated 250,000 people came to see him during this fast – with millions more tuning in to live coverage on Channel 4 and Sky One (which came via a webcam installed in the box). Celebrities including Naomi Campbell, Pamela Anderson and Sir Paul McCartney paid a visit to the site, which was dubbed ‘Camp David’.

This being cynical Britain, however, not everyone was supportive. ‘Blaine-baiters’ – including tabloid newspapers – taunted, heckled and ridiculed the New Yorker during his stunt. People threw everything from eggs and fruit to beer cans and paint-filled balloons at his box, and tried to keep him awake with foghorns and drums. At one point, a hamburger was even attached to a remote-controlled helicopter and flown up to the box to taunt him.

Blaine persisted despite the physical and mental suffering he was enduring, however – and said that the point of Above the Below was to demonstrate that the power of the spirit is “greater than the flesh.” Towards the end of the stunt, he cited his mother’s death from cancer when he was 19 as an inspiration. “She was starving, she had cancer, she had surgery all the time, but yet she managed to smile always and find love through the worst of conditions,” Blaine explained. “And that’s what I think this is for me – it’s my way of finding beauty in suffering.”

[August 7, 1974: 'Criminal artist' Philippe Petit makes tightrope walk between New York’s Twin Towers]

Around 10,000 people from all over the world gathered to watch Blaine being released from his box on October 19 – 44 days after he had entered it. The day before, he had told his best friend Harmony Korine – with whom he had co-devised the stunt – that he was almost at breaking point; during his fast, he said he’d suffered heart palpitations, blurred vision and breathing difficulties.

With paramedics standing close by, the Perspex box was lowered to the ground, Blaine emerged and broke down in tears.

“I have learned more in that little box than I have in years,” he told the crowd. “I've learned how important it is to have a sense of humour and to laugh at everything – because nothing makes any sense anyway.

“I’ve learned how strong we all are as human beings. But most importantly, I’ve learned to appreciate all the simple things in life: a sunrise, a sunset, a smile from a stranger, a smile from a loved one. And I think you all so much. I love you all so much.”

He was quickly put on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to hospital, where he underwent tests and began refeeding under strict medical supervision.