What It's Like To Be Buried Alive — And Survive Harry Houdini famously tried to escape from being buried alive — and famously failed. Recently, escape artist Antony Britton tried to do what Houdini couldn't. He describes the view from down under.

What It's Like To Be Buried Alive — And Survive

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/441772626/441775246" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Antony Britton literally dug his own grave, and it almost killed him. Britton is an escape artist in the tradition of Harry Houdini, and he was attempting Houdini's "Buried Alive" stunt. He was handcuffed, shackled, plopped in a grave and buried under 6 feet of dirt. Now, something you should know about Houdini's "Buried Alive" stunt - no one has ever pulled it off. "Buried Alive" is famous because Houdini failed and very nearly died attempting it. Earlier this month, that scene was repeated at a charity event in England. A crowd of horrified spectators looked on as Antony Britton had to be dug out and revived by paramedics. I asked him to describe the experience.

ANTONY BRITTON: To start off with, it's painful. There's no coffin there. There's no casket, nothing there to protect your body. I remember the first bucket of soil hit me. It was a bit of a shock. But then it was a case of right, we're here. We're doing it. And then when the second one hit me, it was more like a thud on your body, and you could feel the soil compressing around you. You know, you've just got to clear your mind and just completely forget that that's happening if you can. Each bucket that went onto you, I mean, obviously, the crushing that it's coming from the front, you know, underneath you. It's coming from the sides of you. It's going on top of you. But yeah, it's not a good one. (Laughter).

RATH: So you prepared yourself, though, for some physical battering. At what point did you realize that things are not going well, that you're in trouble?

BRITTON: For some reason, I think the soil shifted or something, and I got my right arm trapped and - trapped between my body and the actual soil itself. So at that point, it was - crikey, you know, I can't move my right arm. Anyway, a moment - I felt myself going unconscious and my - you know, I was just trying to focus on you've got to do this. You've got to escape the grave and - you know, to keep myself calm. Believe it or not, I was actually, in my head, singing the song of "Great Balls Of Fire" by the wonderful Jerry Lee Lewis in my head to try and keep myself calm. But, you know, it just got to a point where, you know, I'd given it my entire best shot. I had nothing left in me, in my body. And at that point, that's when I could feel myself going under. And that's - at that point, everybody knew exactly what to do. And they got to me as quickly as they possibly could.

RATH: Wow. How close did you get in the end before you lost consciousness?

BRITTON: I've been told once they managed to get me - well, get to me and get the soil from me and start dragging me up, they quickly realized I was approximately about 2 feet away from breaking through the surface. (Laughter) So it's like so close, but so far.

RATH: Are you going to try this again?

BRITTON: We - I'm taking a few weeks out to recoup.

RATH: You had a cracked rib, right? And how - what did you come out of this - how are your injuries?

BRITTON: Yeah, I mean, I just had bruising and, you know, a few scratches and a cracked rib, yeah. That's better than the other outcome that could've happened.

RATH: Heck yeah.

BRITTON: So I'll settle for that.


JERRY LEE LEWIS: (Singing) You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain. Too much love...

RATH: Antony Britton attempted to escape after being buried alive - no coffin, 6-feet underground. Antony, thank you very much for speaking with us, and please take care in whatever you do next.

BRITTON: Thank you very much for having me on your show. It's been an honor.


LEWIS: (Singing) I've changed my mind. This love is fine. Goodness gracious, great balls of fire. Kiss me, baby, feels good. Hold me, baby...

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.