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Blaine's world
[ 12:00 a.m. PST- 04/13/99 ]

New York | "I thought I'd seen everything in this town," said a smiling Mathilda Winterson, a young mother from East Harlem. Huddled together with her 6-year-old daughter and several hundred other New Yorkers against the damp Monday-morning chill, she was laughing and applauding magician David Blaine as he emerged from the Plexiglas "coffin" in which he'd been buried on 24-hour display for seven days. A shaky Blaine -- who fasted for six days prior to burial and lived underground on water rations -- thanked the crowd, smiled and left the site to see a doctor.

The 25-year-old illusionist's feat was a major local media event and a warm-up for his TV special Wednesday night. The burial generated an extraordinary buzz in New York, partly because Blaine is a close friend of Leonardo DiCaprio, and drew substantial crowds to an otherwise nondescript residential area a few hundred yards from the Hudson River. There was no admission fee and no tickets to count, but estimates suggest that between 50,000 and 75,000 people visited. Many came by more than once. "I want to see what happens when he starts hallucinating," said a ruddy, middle-aged man. A well-pierced young woman was smitten by the dark-haired, shirtless Blaine: "He's cute as hell in that little box."

The visitors were as varied as the reasons for visiting. A rainbow coalition of patient voyeurs -- construction workers, hipsters, elderly couples, blacks, whites, Asians and Latinos -- stood in line waiting for the chance to peer down through a three-ton glass tank of water that covered the coffin. (The line surged during lunch hour and when the clubs let out at 3 or 4 in the morning.) Blaine, clearly visible through the water, often waved and smiled at his public when he was awake; when asleep, he looked eerily vulnerable in the tiny, well-lit space, licking his lips, scratching his cheek and laughing in his sleep with a white cotton blanket pulled up to his chin.

Jonathan Baker, assistant to the chairman of the Nederlander Organization, which ponied up more than $100,000 to stage the event, said that he saw Blaine shortly after his exhumation, and that the magician "looked great, was in good spirits, but was about 20 pounds lighter" than when he descended into the coffin.

Blaine's ABC special airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. He will perform tricks on the streets of New York, Memphis, New Orleans and Haiti.
-- Benedict Cosgrove

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