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  • As a magician, I try to create images that make people stop and think.

  • I also try to challenge myself

  • to do things that doctors say are not possible.

  • I was buried alive in New York City in a coffin,

  • buried alive in a coffin in April, 1999, for a week.

  • I lived there with nothing but water.

  • And it ended up being so much fun

  • that I decided I could pursue doing more of these things.

  • The next one is I froze myself in a block of ice

  • for three days and three nights in New York City.

  • That one was way more difficult than I had expected.

  • The one after that, I stood on top of a hundred-foot pillar

  • for 36 hours.

  • I began to hallucinate so hard

  • that the buildings that were behind me started to look like big animal heads.

  • So, next I went to London.

  • In London I lived in a glass box for 44 days

  • with nothing but water.

  • It was, for me, one of the most difficult things I'd ever done,

  • but it was also the most beautiful.

  • There was so many skeptics, especially the press in London,

  • that they started flying cheeseburgers on helicopters around my box to tempt me.

  • (Laughter)

  • So, I felt very validated

  • when the New England Journal of Medicine actually used the research for science.

  • My next pursuit was I wanted to see how long I could go without breathing,

  • like how long I could survive with nothing, not even air.

  • I didn't realize that it would become the most amazing journey of my life.

  • As a young magician,

  • I was obsessed with Houdini and his underwater challenges.

  • So, I began, early on, competing against the other kids,

  • seeing how long I could stay underwater while they went up and down to breathe,

  • you know, five times, while I stayed under on one breath.

  • By the time I was a teenager,

  • I was able to hold my breath for three minutes and 30 seconds.

  • I would later find out that was Houdini's personal record.

  • In 1987 I heard of a story

  • about a boy that fell through ice and was trapped under a river.

  • He was underneath, not breathing for 45 minutes.

  • When the rescue workers came,

  • they resuscitated him and there was no brain damage.

  • His core temperature had dropped to 77 degrees.

  • As a magician, I think everything is possible.

  • And I think if something is done by one person,

  • it can be done by others.

  • I started to think,

  • if the boy could survive without breathing for that long,

  • there must be a way that I could do it.

  • So, I met with a top neurosurgeon.

  • And I asked him, how long is it possible to go without breathing,

  • like how long could I go without air?

  • And he said to me that anything over six minutes

  • you have a serious risk of hypoxic brain damage.

  • So, I took that as a challenge, basically.

  • (Laughter)

  • My first try, I figured that I could do something similar,

  • and I created a water tank,

  • and I filled it with ice and freezing cold water.

  • And I stayed inside of that water tank

  • hoping my core temperature would start to drop.

  • And I was shivering.

  • In my first attempt to hold my breath, I couldn't even last a minute.

  • So, I realized that was completely not going to work.

  • I went to talk to a doctor friend --

  • and I asked him, "How could I do that?"

  • "I want to hold my breath for a really long time. How could it be done?"

  • And he said, "David, you're a magician,

  • create the illusion of not breathing, it will be much easier."

  • (Laughter)

  • So, he came up with this idea of creating a rebreather,

  • with a CO2 scrubber,

  • which was basically a tube from Home Depot,

  • with a balloon duct-taped to it,

  • that he thought we could put inside of me,

  • and somehow be able to circulate the air and rebreathe

  • with this thing in me.

  • This is a little hard to watch.

  • But this is that attempt.

  • So, that clearly wasn't going to work.

  • (Laughter)

  • Then I actually started thinking about liquid breathing.

  • There is a chemical that's called perflubron.

  • And it's so high in oxygen levels that in theory you could breathe it.

  • So, I got my hands on that chemical,

  • filled the sink up with it, and stuck my face in the sink

  • and tried to breathe that in, which was really impossible.

  • It's basically like trying to breathe, as a doctor said,

  • while having an elephant standing on your chest.

  • So, that idea disappeared.

  • Then I started thinking,

  • would it be possible to hook up a heart/lung bypass machine

  • and have a surgery where it was a tube going into my artery,

  • and then appear to not breathe while they were oxygenating my blood?

  • Which was another insane idea, obviously.

  • Then I thought about the craziest idea of all the ideas:

  • to actually do it.

  • (Laughter)

  • To actually try to hold my breath past the point

  • that doctors would consider you brain dead.

  • So, I started researching into pearl divers.

  • You know, because they go down for four minutes on one breath.

  • And when I was researching pearl divers, I found the world of free-diving.

  • It was the most amazing thing that I ever discovered, pretty much.

  • There is many different aspects to free-diving.

  • There is depth records, where people go as deep as they can.

  • And then there is static apnea.

  • That's holding your breath as long as you can

  • in one place without moving.

  • That was the one that I studied.

  • The first thing that I learned is when you're holding your breath,

  • you should never move at all; that wastes energy.

  • And that depletes oxygen,

  • and it builds up CO2 in your blood.

  • So, I learned never to move.

  • And I learned how to slow my heart rate down.

  • I had to remain perfectly still and just relax

  • and think that I wasn't in my body, and just control that.

  • And then I learned how to purge.

  • Purging is basically hyperventilating.

  • You blow in and out --

  • (Breathing loudly)

  • You do that, you get lightheaded, you get tingling.

  • And you're really ridding your body of CO2.

  • So, when you hold your breath, it's infinitely easier.

  • Then I learned that you have to take a huge breath,

  • and just hold and relax and never let any air out,

  • and just hold and relax through all the pain.

  • Every morning, this is for months,

  • I would wake up and the first thing that I would do

  • is I would hold my breath

  • for, out of 52 minutes, I would hold my breath for 44 minutes.

  • So, basically what that means is I would purge,

  • I'd breathe really hard for a minute.

  • And I would hold, immediately after, for five and a half minutes.

  • Then I would breathe again for a minute, purging as hard as I can,

  • then immediately after that I would hold again for five and a half minutes.

  • I would repeat this process eight times in a row.

  • Out of 52 minutes, you're only breathing for eight minutes.

  • At the end of that you're completely fried, your brain.

  • You feel like you're walking around in a daze.

  • And you have these awful headaches.

  • Basically, I'm not the best person to talk to when I'm doing that stuff.

  • I started learning about the world-record holder.

  • His name is Tom Sietas.

  • And this guy is perfectly built for holding his breath.

  • He's six foot four. He's 160 pounds.

  • And his total lung capacity is twice the size of an average person.

  • I'm six foot one, and fat.

  • We'll say big-boned.

  • (Laughter)

  • I had to drop 50 pounds in three months.

  • So, everything that I put into my body, I considered as medicine.

  • Every bit of food was exactly what it was for its nutritional value.

  • I ate really small controlled portions throughout the day.

  • And I started to really adapt my body.

  • [Individual results may vary]

  • (Laughter)

  • The thinner I was, the longer I was able to hold my breath.

  • And by eating so well and training so hard,

  • my resting heart-rate dropped to 38 beats per minute.

  • Which is lower than most Olympic athletes.

  • In four months of training,

  • I was able to hold my breath for over seven minutes.

  • I wanted to try holding my breath everywhere.

  • I wanted to try it in the most extreme situations

  • to see if I could slow my heart rate down under duress.

  • (Laughter)

  • I decided that I was going to break the world record

  • live on prime-time television.

  • The world record was eight minutes and 58 seconds,

  • held by Tom Sietas, that guy with the whale lungs I told you about.

  • I assumed that I could put a water tank at Lincoln Center

  • and if I stayed there a week not eating,

  • I would get comfortable in that situation and I would slow my metabolism,

  • which I was sure would help me hold my breath

  • longer than I had been able to do it.

  • I was completely wrong.

  • I entered the sphere a week before the scheduled air date.

  • And I thought everything seemed to be on track.

  • Two days before my big breath-hold attempt, for the record,

  • the producers of my television special

  • thought that just watching somebody holding their breath, and almost drowning,

  • is too boring for television.

  • (Laughter)

  • So, I had to add handcuffs, while holding my breath, to escape from.

  • This was a critical mistake.

  • Because of the movement, I was wasting oxygen.

  • And by seven minutes I had gone into these awful convulsions.

  • By 7:08, I started to black out.

  • And by seven minutes and 30 seconds,

  • they had to pull my body out and bring me back.

  • I had failed on every level.

  • (Laughter)

  • So, naturally, the only way out of the slump that I could think of was,

  • I decided to call Oprah.

  • (Laughter)

  • I told her that I wanted to up the ante

  • and hold my breath longer than any human being ever had.

  • This was a different record.

  • This was a pure O2 static apnea record

  • that Guinness had set the world record at 13 minutes.

  • So, basically you breathe pure O2 first, oxygenating your body, flushing out CO2,

  • and you are able to hold much longer.

  • I realized that my real competition was the beaver.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Laughter ends)

  • In January of '08,

  • Oprah gave me four months to prepare and train.

  • So, I would sleep in a hypoxic tent every night.

  • A hypoxic tent is a tent that simulates altitude at 15,000 feet.

  • So, it's like base camp, Everest.

  • What that does is, you start building up the red bloodcell count in your body,

  • which helps you carry oxygen better.

  • Every morning, again, after getting out of that tent,

  • your brain is completely wiped out.

  • My first attempt on pure O2, I was able to go up to 15 minutes.

  • So, it was a pretty big success.

  • The neurosurgeon pulled me out of the water

  • because in his mind, at 15 minutes your brain is done, you're brain dead.

  • So, he pulled me up, and I was fine.

  • There was one person there that was definitely not impressed.

  • It was my ex-girlfriend.

  • While I was breaking the record underwater for the first time,

  • she was sifting through my Blackberry, checking all my messages.

  • (Laughter)

  • My brother had a picture of it. It is really --

  • (Laughter)

  • (Laughter ends)

  • I then announced that I was going to go for Sietas' record, publicly.

  • And what he did in response, is he went on Regis and Kelly,

  • and broke his old record.

  • Then his main competitor went out and broke his record.

  • So, he suddenly pushed the record up to 16 minutes and 32 seconds.

  • Which was three minutes longer than I had prepared.

  • It was longer than the record.

  • I wanted to get the Science Times to document this.

  • I wanted to get them to do a piece on it.

  • So, I did what any person

  • seriously pursuing scientific advancement would do.

  • I walked into the New York Times offices and did card tricks to everybody.

  • (Laughter)

  • So, I don't know if it was the magic or the lure of the Cayman Islands,

  • but John Tierney flew down

  • and did a piece on the seriousness of breath-holding.

  • While he was there, I tried to impress him, of course.

  • And I did a dive down to 160 feet,

  • which is basically the height of a 16 story building,

  • and as I was coming up, I blacked out underwater,

  • which is really dangerous; that's how you drown.

  • Luckily, Kirk had seen me and he swam over and pulled me up.

  • So, I started full focus.

  • I completely trained to get my breath-hold time up