A New York magician lived up to his nickname, "The Human Ashtray," by stuffing a record number of lit cigarettes into his mouth to send an anti-smoking message to children.
Richie Magic, 55, of Scarsdale, N.Y. extinguished 70 smokes on his tongue in 60 seconds on May 19, setting a new world record.
He gasped for air as he crammed the burning cigarettes into his mouth, five at a time. He chewed on them and sent pieces flying as he spit them out.
A crowd gathered in Washington Square Park to watch the spectacle. Some people cheered him on, while others looked disgusted at the stunt, partially inspired by a new law that bans smoking in New York City parks, beaches and other public places. The rule takes effect May 23 and once again puts New York City at the forefront of anti-smoking initiatives, just as the smoking ban in bars and restaurants did in 2003.
"I put the message to the kids before my own health," Magic said later. "Smoking is disgusting and terribly addicting."
When the minute was up, he stuck out his blackened and blistered tongue.
"It feels horrible. My tongue is numb, but the tip is killing me," said Magic, 55. "I feel the skin peeling away."
For the next few days, Magic will eat only liquids, as his injuries make it too painful to eat. Spicy foods are out of his diet for weeks.
HIs wife, Barbara Nista, appeared uncomfortable at the sight of her husband hurting himself.
"I feel nervous and scared, because of the health issues," said Nista, 50, Magic's wife for 25 years. "I started to get squeamish, but the health message is worth it."
After Magic retired from a career as a prison guard, where he met celebrity inmates like James Brown and Ace Frehley, he started performing magic shows. He's armed with an array of card tricks and has memorized the calendar so he can determine the day of the week any date of the year will fall on.
Eventually, he veered into the world of sideshow-style performances like his ashtray routine, which he practices in his suburban backyard.
Nista, who quit smoking just over two weeks ago, kissed Magic for good luck before the record-setting attempt, saying she wouldn't want to get close to his smoky breath afterward.
"It smells horrid," she said. "I tell him to talk to me from over there."
The event was supposed to take place on May 23 in Times Square, outside the Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum there, but Ripley's officials cancelled the event when they learned from AOL Weird News that Magic had started smoking again.
Ripley's officials said they felt they had no choice but to cancel the event, fearing the anti-smoking message would be lost. Magic, however, was upset.
The magician regrouped by independently staging the feat, getting an official from the Record Holders Republic to validate the results so his title would be officially on the books.
He kicked the habit for two months in 2009, on the same day he set his first record for orally extinguished cigarettes. But he succumbed to smoking again recently, during a stressful period in his life when his sister was dying and several other relatives became seriously sick.
"It was an excuse [to smoke]," said Magic. "It was a crutch. The fact is I'm addicted."