Will he make it out alive?

If Criss Angel doesn't move fast enough, imploding hotel's rubble could do him in

July 28, 2008|By Mike Donila | Mike Donila,St. Petersburg Times

CLEARWATER, Fla. - With timed detonators ticking down four minutes, illusionist Criss Angel must remove the stainless steel, police-issue Smith & Wesson handcuffs, pick locks on three doors, then race up four flights of stairs and through two more locks to the roof.

But he won't be safe yet.

He still has to grab a ladder hanging from a helicopter that will whisk him 1,000 feet into the air before the building below him implodes.

If he does Wednesday night's stunt at the Spyglass Resort on Clearwater Beach in 3 minutes, 30 seconds or less, he'll be OK. One second longer and the helicopter won't get high enough, possibly resulting in the Las Vegas-based escape artist's death, Angel said Thursday.

"When 4,500 tons of cement come barreling to earth, my mission is not to be under that," said Angel, 40. "Because it's going to come down whether I'm in it or not."

Angel's show, Mindfreak, A&E's most-watched, will be broadcast live for the first time at 10 p.m. Wednesday. Millions will be watching on TV, possibly 10,000 more on the beach, where the stunt will be performed on the sixth floor of the nine-story Spyglass Resort.

So the pressure is on for this post-modern Harry Houdini, who has walked on water, disappeared in front of a raging Mexican bull and even set himself on fire. To prepare, he has practiced at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport and at the vacant Spyglass itself.

Angel said the escape will be among his "biggest and baddest."

And live or die, he says it's going to be his last.

From now on, he says he'll take fewer risks and perform more magic.

The reason?

He doesn't want to worry his mother anymore.

Picking locks is not a big deal for Angel, who will have picks on his necklace. He's been doing it since he was 14. But the pressure and stress of facing death can throw him off, so calmness is key. But he also must factor in Clearwater's fickle weather.

Still, when the timer starts ticking at 10:56 p.m., Angel figures that with four minutes, he has time to spare.

"My goal is to actually do this in 2 minutes and 30 seconds," he said.

The beach could be packed for the free event. Roughly 7,000 people turned out for his "Cement Block" event last year in Times Square, and 10,000 in March attended his "Double Straightjacket Escape" in New Orleans.

Angel said he chose Clearwater because of the view, and it had a building ready this month for implosion.

Already, visitors throughout the Southeast are booking hotels, and city officials say they expect people to camp out the night before, just to get a good spot on the beach or Pier 60.

"He suspends belief and suspends reality and your perspective of what reality is," said Lynne Sutcliffe, 52, a waitress from Lake County who has watched the past three seasons with her daughter, Tess.

"He's freakin' hot," said the 13-year-old girl, whose MySpace Web page is covered with Angel's pictures. "I've always been interested in magic, and what he does is inspiring."

Orlando resident Ruth Ivanescu, a 50-year-old marketer, booked a room last week and says her "whole family is crazy" about Angel.

"He's so amazing, you can't figure out how he does [the tricks]," said Ivanescu, who saw him in Times Square. "He leaves everyone bewildered."

Although much of the focus has been on Angel's stunt, city officials say they're just thankful that the vacant Spyglass, known for its 100-foot tall mural of a balloon, is coming down to make way for a mega-hotel.

"I want the Spyglass to disappear via illusionist, dynamite or bulldozer," Mayor Frank Hibbard said. "And if everything is successful, then I think it's going to be positive publicity for Clearwater."

The event will probably cost the city roughly $5,000 to provide its share for security, since a number of roads will be closed.

The plan is for the building to fall in on itself, and the seismic activity should be no stronger than a bus driving by, said city Fire Marshal Steve Strong. The building will fall slightly forward, about 30 feet out, but won't hit the newly installed BeachWalk.

Construction crews have removed the front of the building. They've left the balconies as well as the door, with a "1" marked on it, where Angel will stand.

The illusionist will be taken up to the floor's center balcony in a bucket truck, along with Vice Mayor George Cretekos and someone from the audience to check the shackles.

"It's a Greek imploding a Greek," joked Cretekos, citing Angel's and his own heritage.

About 450 sticks of dynamite will be inserted into the building's vertical beams on the first, second and fourth floors.

Everyone is hoping for the best, but just the same, the city says all liability papers have been signed.

"We're relying heavily on Mr. Angel's professional ability as an escape artist to pull this off," said Fire Chief Jamie Geer.

Freaky feats

Some of Criss Angel's past stunts:

Levitated above the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas

Floated between two buildings

Cut himself in half

Run over by a steamroller while lying on a bed of glass

Stood on a common sprinkler and let the water pressure lift him about 10 feet in the air

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