Performer Mario Manzini escaped from two pairs of handcuffs and a straitjacket Sunday afternoon while hanging upside down from a burning rope suspended 100 feet in the air.
Much to his surprise, he did so in 1 minute, 19 seconds, breaking his old record by 27 seconds.
“I didn’t think I could go that fast,” Manzini said. “I had a feeling something bad was going to happen.”
Although he had performed the stunt hundreds of times in his life, Manzini said he hadn’t practiced in 15 years.
“In a way, I did this today to prove I could still do it,” he said.
Sunday’s stunt — performed in the parking lot of Shakespeare’s Pizza downtown — was done to promote Manzini’s performance at the Missouri Theatre at 7 p.m. Friday. Proceeds will benefit local charities.
Manzini has been practicing the art of escape since he was 5 years old. He said he ran away from home to join the circus when he was 16, and in 1974 he was arrested for jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Manzini said he escaped from police handcuffs before arriving at the police station.
A diverse crowd gathered Sunday to watch Manzini’s preparations, including Mayor Darwin Hindman, Columbia Police Sergeant Danny Grant and Paul Pepper of KOMU/Channel 8.
Manzini first strapped on protective ankle pads and soaked his legs and the ankle pads with gasoline before looping the rope around his ankles. Another section of rope was also saturated with a mixture of kerosene and gasoline while a light breeze carried the odor through the crowd.
Manzini then hugged Hindman, Pepper and his crew members before being handcuffed with a pair of Smith & Wesson hinged handcuffs belonging to Grant. Manzini said he had never before attempted the stunt with hinged handcuffs.
“These are real cuffs we use on the street,” Grant said.
The mayor helped buckle Manzini into a canvas straitjacket but had a little difficulty.
“I’m not familiar with straitjackets,” Hindman said with a laugh. “I haven’t been in one lately.”
Before the stunt began, Manzini offered a final warning to the crowd. “I’m 99 percent sure I’ll make it, but you never know,” he said.
Manzini’s assistant, Nicole Bradhurst, lit the gasoline-soaked section of rope before a crane lifted Manzini into the air. Manzini had the handcuffs off before he was raised all the way into the air. He then had to dislocate both of his shoulders to get his arms free of the straitjacket sleeves. He had a small problem getting the jacket over his helmet, but this was quickly overcome, and the straitjacket was soon sailing down to the ground.
As a signal he was done, Manzini waved an American flag he had tucked underneath his belt.
“The flag is symbolic of freedom and escape,” Manzini said.