Tuesday, June 18, 2013 | 6 p.m.
For 10 nail-biting minutes, several thousand people stood in total silence and watched magician Criss Angel inch his way, blindfolded, across two steel beams swaying 50 feet in the air.
This was no illusion for the “Believe” star. No tricks, nothing hidden, no sleight of hand or wizardry to divert attention. The "Mindfreak" star, who is shooting a new series of one-hour specials for Spike TV, was in full view of the audience members, who stopped shopping at the Fashion Show mall on the Strip.
“I can hardly breathe,” said Criss, after a loose hood was placed on his head by one audience volunteer and taped up by another. “Let's do this so I can get it off on the other side.”
He was raised slowly skyward in a metal cage. A hush fell over the eye witnesses. Criss stepped out on the first narrow beam; there was total silence except for the quiet whirr of the television cameras recording the event from numerous angles.
Some female fans cried softly and bit their nails. Some men held on tightly to their partners. You could have heard a pin drop.
Even I had chills. It was as if seconds became hours as he gingerly balanced with arms outstretched, slowly placing one foot carefully in front of the other on the first beam.
There was no safety net. There was no rubber matting over the tiled floor. His only safety precaution was a trailing cable that he didn't want to wear — separate insurance companies representing the mall, CBS-Viacom and Cirque said they wouldn’t permit the stunt to go forward unless he did.
Then his toes found the 2-foot gap between the two swinging beams. To get across, he'd need to get one foot onto the second beam while leaving the other on the first. He was spread eagle for what seemed an eternity before he pulled his other leg safely onto the remaining beam.
“Don’t move fast now,” yelled his high-wire acrobatic trainers from Cirque’s "Zarkana." “Go slow as before.”
Finally, Criss made it safely to the other cage and applause, cheers and screams rang out. He was lowered to the ground, where he sat for a moment, stunned but sobbing. His face was white.
“I’m drained, man," he told me. "That was the most dangerous and frightening thing I’ve ever done in my life.
“I’m not frightened by death, but I want to be around for a while to come. I was totally blind up there. It was solely about my other senses. I’m exhausted yet still have two ‘Believe’ shows to do. That is magic compared to what I just did. This was a demonstration of the skill of heightened senses.
“This is a brutal schedule: Filming 11 specials and still doing my show. We’re doing things that defy imagination — and right in full view of the fans. The added danger is that there’s little time for practice or rehearsal and triple checking the safety factors. That ramps up the danger factor tenfold.
“I only had two weeks of rehearsals with the great high-wire acrobats from 'Zarkana.' They became my MVPs. They guided me through this. They get the credit."
One of them told me: “He was a natural from Day 1. No fear of heights. Fully confident he could do it. It was very dangerous and very difficult, but he could easily become a Cirque acrobat now. We knew he would do it because he was so determined and his mind was so fixed on pulling it off!”
The Spike TV series is expected to premiere in the fall.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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