‘Dude’s crazy’: Daredevil kicks off summer of stunts in Times Square
It’s 87 degrees on one of the first real summer days in New York City and a crowd of hundreds of people—tourists, bankers on their lunch break, moms with strollers—are all standing together, with their necks craned at odd angles so they can watch the spectacle in the sky.
“The dude’s crazy,” says the security guard, shaking his head, as a mob of people surround him in Times Square. “He’s been up there all day, just sitting on that wooden chair, way up in the air, talking to people in all sorts of different tongues.”
The “dude” is Bello Nock, a seventh generation circus performer-turned stuntman-turned international phenomenon. On Tuesday, Nock—with a Kid ‘N Play-ish hairstyle that’d make even Miami Heat guard Norris Cole green with envy—sat on a wooden chair for eight hours…on a high wire…three stories up in the middle of New York City.
Balancing himself with a 21-foot pole in his hands, Nock did over two dozen interviews on Tuesday, breaking a “record” for most interviews ever conducted on a high wire. Nock’s stunning balancing act wasn’t a one-time deal—it kicked off what’s being hyped as “The Summer of Bello," during which the former Ringling Brothers frontman will perform different stunts in 15 countries in a 21 day span. Nock’s final act on Aug. 30 will be held in Las Vegas and is being dubbed “The Ultimate." Available on an online site TheUltimate.com, it will be streamed live and will involve 15 different “death-defying” stunts in a 15-minute flurry.
When an interviewer names current big-name “magic” acts David Blaine and David Copperfield, Nock is quick to point out, “I am not an illusionist,” and his work is by no means magic. His Aug. 30 performance was dreamed up five years ago and has been a career in the making. It will include the extreme "Wirecycle" in which he will attempt to race across a wire via a motorcycle, followed by "The Fire Wirewalk" in which he will attempt to outrun a fiery blaze atop of a high wire. There’s 13 more tricks, beyond that, as well. He will challenge "The Wheel of Steel," also known as "The Wheel of Death," a complete “speed descent” down a rope. The list doesn’t end, and through describing it all, Nock is smiling, offering one-liners to anyone willing to fire him a question.
“How much of this is luck and how much of it is skill?” someone asks from a stage down below.
Nock, sitting in the wooden chair, waving his hands to retain balance while sweat drops from his brow, politely laughs. “People say ‘Good Luck,’ but in my line of work, there really is no such thing as luck, right? There’s doing it, and there’s well…” He trails off and laughs again.
Just how Nock ended up sweating it out a few hundred feet above the ground in Times Square is a story in itself. Born into a family of circus performers, Nock wanted to stand out and be different from his father and the other Nock men before him. He grew out his hair and focused on taking his act beyond the usual call of duty. He slowly integrated death-defying stunts to his repertoire and over the years, his popularity began to grow. He was hired by Ringling Brothers and the Big Apple Circus, and eventually, broke out on his own. If there’s a code for the standard circus performer to live by, Nock’s defied it. Then again, he defies death just about each and every time he cooks up something new in that head of his.
Over the past decade, he’s inked his name in the Guinness Book of World Records for completing the first-ever high-wire walk over a cruise ship at sea. Then he hung from a trapeze under a helicopter over the Statue of Liberty. He’s walked on a high wire across Houston’s Reliant Stadium and he’s ridden an elephant through NYC’s Midtown Tunnel. He’s performed in front of millions of people and has been to just about every country in the world. Oh, and Nock also speaks six languages, the result of being born to a Swiss father and an Italian mother. If the Dos Equis guy has a rival, it’s Bello.
And yet, all the while, he somehow maintains an almost mundane family life in Sarasota, Fla. It’s there, in a 10-acre compound he’s dubbed “The Funny Farm,” where Nock constructs his own sets and trains for his newest stunts. “I’m a modern day mad scientist,” he says. “If my life is on the line, I want to be sure everything is perfect. I want to build it myself.” It’s there where he lives a few months out of the year with his wife and his three children. His son Alex is 24, his daughter Amariah is a pre-school teacher, and his youngest, daughter, Annaliese, is an 18-year-old stuntwoman in the making. On Tuesday, Annaliese joined Nock on the high wire, walking across with nerves of steel. With a crowd of amazed passerby’s cheering, Nock exclaims, “Way to go, Annaliese! She’s been doing this since she was 12 years old!”
A year ago at this time, television producer Neil Mandt was, himself, sweating it out in the sweltering heat of Mississippi, working on a Food Network show called "The Shed." One week, he noticed that the entire town of Biloxi was covered in advertisements for the arrival of Bello Nock. The hairstyle caught his eye, and after a long week of work, he decided to treat his crew to an evening at the Beau Rivage casino. For $10 a head, he bought everyone a ticket to see Bello. A few hours later, Mandt was absolutely enthralled. Fast forward a few months, and the business plan for “The Ultimate” and TheUltimate.com was being hashed out.
“The most death-defying stunts in a record amount of time,” Nock says to the crowd, a blur of hair and torso amidst the New York City midtown skyline. “You won’t be disappointed.”
A showman to the very end, Nock mentions that he, well, has to use the restroom roughly five hours into his stunt. In one of the more acrobatic, mind-bending maneuvers you’ll ever see, Nock backs up a few feet on the tight rope, while still seated in the wooden chair, before kicking his feet up and catapulting himself into a standing position on the high wire. The chair, somehow, someway, doesn’t fall into the sea of people down below. It remains still on the wire, before his daughter grabs it and places it on a stage nearby.
The move, in itself, is worthy of an applause. But Bello plays it off. “I’ll be back shortly! Nature calls!”
And soon enough, he’s back up there, doing an interview with a Spanish-speaking television station.
On Friday, Nock will perform another stunt, this time at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Then it’s off to London, Paris, and Berlin. The show seemingly never stops for Bello Nock. “It’s my life’s work and passion,” he tells a radio station in Minnesota. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”