MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to spend the next few minutes talking with artists and performers who are taking their work in new directions. And we're going to start with Johnny Fox. Fox is a sword swallower whose humor and bravado have made him a beloved figure to audiences at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. He's been performing there for nearly 40 years. And as Tara Boyle tells us, he's back this year even as he deals with serious health problems.
TARA BOYLE, BYLINE: Johnny Fox has a routine he follows most every time he's on stage. He picks up a small bronze cup, pours a circle of water around him on the floor and utters this phrase.
JOHNNY FOX: Water from India.
BOYLE: Water from India. This protective montra is your clue that Fox is about to do something crazy, like swallowing a 22-inch stainless steel sword.
FOX: It's gross, but you'll watch.
BOYLE: He's right. Over the years, fans have watched as he throws back his head and swallows all kinds of swords - long ones, short ones, even a neon one whose light glowed through the skin of his throat. He's also been known to swallow a massive screwdriver.
FOX: Twist it around a couple of times so my butt doesn't fall off and make sure I do it clockwise, not counterclockwise.
BOYLE: This year, Fox isn't swallowing screwdrivers or swords. He's been sticking to magic tricks and talking with audiences in a way they've never heard before.
FOX: About, oh, March, April, I was told that I was not going to live anymore. They said, You're not going to ever perform again. Forget about it. I said, you don't know who you're talking to.
BOYLE: Fox is being treated for hepatitis C, cirrhosis and liver tumors. He's lost a lot of weight and tires easily these days, but friends and fans are helping to raise money for his care. And he says he's fiercely optimistic about the future.
FOX: We're all in this crazy, crazy world together. And there's love and there's fear. I choose love.
BOYLE: Tara Boyle, NPR News.
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