New York City's ban on smoking in public parks goes into effect next week, and the folks at Ripley's Believe It Or Not! thought they'd conjured the perfect stunt to drive home an anti-smoking message -- Richie "The Human Ashtray" Magic would show the world just how gross smoking could be by extinguishing 200 cigarettes on his pain-proof tongue.
But AOL Weird News has learned that the May 23 event was abruptly cancelled after the sideshow performer admitted to AOL that he had fallen off the wagon and started smoking again.
"We admire Richie for his courageous attempt to bring to light the harmful effects of smoking in such an outrageous fashion," said Michael Hirsch, general manager of Ripley's Times Square Odditorium, in a prepared statement.
"We support Richie in his pursuit for a new world record. However, as Richie is still -- like many others -- battling his addiction to smoking, Ripley's Times Square has decided to cancel the upcoming event."
A Ripley's representative said the Odditorium is open to staging an event with Magic in the future, but they think it's necessary to cancel this one because the intended message -- smoking is gross -- would be lost.
The jilted entertainer, however, feels like he was dropped like a bad habit.
"It's irrelevant," said Magic, 55, about the smoking habit he picked up when he was 13 or 14. "Richie Magic is the star of the event, but that's not the point... Understand it's coming from my heart to send a message to children not to start smoking."
"Children are not interested in the long term health effects of smoking," said Magic, "but after opening my mouth and showing them a blackened, burned tongue filled with ash it sends the message."
Magic began snuffing out cigarettes on his tongue, chewing them up and spitting them out as a stunt in 2009. He's put out 20 butts at once in 6.8 seconds and 200 cigarettes one at a time in 6 minutes, 3.7 seconds. Both feats are recognized as the fastest times in these categories by the Record Holders Republic. His exploits have been featured in Ripley's comics.
In Times Square, Magic planned to break his own record for extinguishing a carton's worth of smokes. The Ripley's museum touted Magic's credentials as an anti-smoking advocate to create buzz for the sideshow-style spectacle.
"We are confident that Richie's attempt will slam home the message to adults and children, that if you smoke, you should quit, and if you don't, never start," said Hirsch, before learning of Magic's relapse.
The press release said Magic quit smoking after 40 years on the day he set his first world record in 2009.
But Magic admitted to AOL Weird News that he started puffing again two months later during a stressful period in his personal life when his sister was dying.
Magic's revelation late Thursday sent Ripley's scrambling. They removed him from their website, Magic said, and then canceled the event.
Magic maintains that no one from Ripley's ever asked him if he smokes.
"I think they lost interest in me because of my honesty," he said, adding that he's been hypnotized and undergone acupuncture in the hopes of conquering his nicotine addiction. "I would give all my materialistic possessions to quit smoking,"
Disappointed but not defeated, Magic plans to salvage the event by performing it independently elsewhere in New York. AOL Weird News, if invited, will document the event.
Even though the stunt was scuttled, the editor of WhyQuit website said the shock value of Magic's stunt could be an effective way to reach kids who ignore the warnings about long term hazards.
"He's right," said John Polito. "They don't worry, because they think lung cancer takes years to develop."
The performances is almost unavoidably dangerous. It leaves Magic's tongue covered with burns and blisters.
He said he's demonstrated his talent hundreds of times, but has never had serious injuries. The worst side effect is that it's difficult to chew or talk for several days.
Though he considers himself an anti-smoking advocate, spokespeople for the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society declined to comment about his contribution to the crusade against tobacco.
Magic has seemingly cornered the market on cigarettes stunts, said David Adamovich, president of Record Holders Republic and a friend of Magic's, but he does't think the titles are unbreakable.
"No one has really challenged those records since he's done them," he told AOL News. "But there are lot of fire-eaters out there who burn their mouths all the time and I've assumed that one of them would go for this record."