By Stephen M. Silverman And Laura Schreffler
Updated October 20, 2003 07:30 AM

“Three cheers for David Blaine: hip, hip hooray!” That resounding cry was echoed by some 15,000 people who gathered Sunday night at London’s Tower Bridge to witness the wrap-up of American magician David Blaine’s self-imposed 44-day starvation vigil, reports PEOPLE.

As the crane holding his plastic cage lowered him to the ground, Blaine, 30, looked down — at times rising to his feet and wobbling, while other times watching the crowd from a sitting position and waving.

Blaine, still inside his 7′-by-7′-by-3′ plastic box, told the TV cameras recording his stunt: “The darkness will soon be over, soon I will be free again.”

Minutes later, Blaine and his temporary home touched terra firma. At 9:45 p.m. he emerged, some 34 pounds lighter than when he started.

Initially, the locals were slow to warm to Blaine. People taunted him by cooking sausages below him, sending toy helicopters with hamburgers near him and even jeering. One man shot golf balls at him.

But on his final night, support for Blaine was building. Indeed, no one jeered on Sunday night. Instead, only cheers.

Looking sickly and exhausted, a bearded Blaine managed a huge, satisfied grin before breaking down in tears. “I thank you all so much, I love all of you,” he said between sobs.

“This has been one of the most important experiences in my life,” he added. “I’ve learned more in that little box that I have in years. I’ve learned how important it is to have a sense of humor and laugh at everything.”

He added: “Most importantly, I’ve learned to appreciate the important things in life. A smile from a strange one or a loved one, the sunrise, the sunset — everything that God has given.”

The illusionist was then placed in a stretcher and sped off to a private hospital with his girlfriend, German model Manon van Gerkan. He will undergo various medical tests to determine if his latest stunt has permanently damaged his health. (There are reputedly fears about damage to his heart.)

“I’m afraid I can’t comment on his condition until the report has been made available,” a spokeswoman for the London Independent Hospital told PEOPLE Monday morning.

So, when will Blaine finally get his solid food of choice? Not for a while. Blaine will have to be weaned onto solid foods to avoid health complications, after he works his way through a mineral course.