By Dana Feldman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - George the Giant, towering over onlookers gathered to see performers swallow steel, hammers a 6-1/2 inch nail up his nostril, rips a phone book in half with his bare hands and dangles a full bottle of Coke from his eyelids with fish hooks.
The world's tallest sword swallower, at 7 feet 3 inches, he was under strict doctor's orders not to participate in the main event at the 6th Annual "World Sword Swallower's Day" due to an unrelated injury, but remained intent on pleasing the crowd.
He was among performers on Hollywood Boulevard outside of Ripley's Believe it or Not! on Saturday for a death-defying show that would ultimately see 234 inches of metal swallowed simultaneously by some of America's best sword swallowers.
"Every time you swallow a sword you're cheating death," George said of the art he's practiced for the past two decades. The longest sword he's swallowed was 33 inches long and one and a half inches wide. "It's a rush to watch people as they watch you do these things that others can't do."
As these professionals threw their heads back and "dropped sword," the adrenaline pumped from the performers out into the Hollywood crowd as they excitedly cheered.
With preparations for Sunday's Academy Awards show under way across the street, about 100 passers-by gathered with anticipation as the performers swallowed steel.
Amy Amnesia, a 32-year-old performer, told Reuters this was her first public appearance. Explaining that the minimum requirements were for swords 14 inches long and a half-inch wide, she said her particular sword of choice is 19 inches.
"You have to get your body used to this new paradigm of having a large solid object down your throat," she said, explaining that she had only recently learned the art.
Ripley's, which sponsored the event along with the Sword Swallowers Association International, has supported the sword- swallowing community for 80 years, and such events have made contributions to medicine and science by raising money for esophageal cancer research.
According to Ripley's General Manager and new sword swallowing trainee Andrea Silverman, the best way to learn is to first start training with a wire coat hanger.
"The average person takes six months to get comfortable and a year before their first performance," she said.
Brett Loudermilk, 24, first learned to swallow swords when he was 15 years old, saying he "started out with a cake spatula and then moved to a wire coat hanger."
Why does Loudermilk perform? "It's great providing people with a sense of wonder."
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Daniel Trotta and Eric Walsh)