On Friday evening, October 3rd, his 59th birthday, Roy Horn walked onstage at the Mirage hotel with his partner in magic since the early 1960’s, Siegfried Fischbacher, and began delighting the capacity audience with their special blend of big budget illusions and wild animal acts, as they had for many years before.
For over a half an hour the Siegfried and Roy show ran smoothly, and then, when the moment was right, Roy introduced Montecore, a 7 year old, 600 pound, male white tiger to the packed crowd. Roy joked that this was Montecore’s first time on stage. It was a joke he made every night to add a bit of adrenaline into an already excited room. In reality, Montecore had been performing with the duo since he was a 6 month old cub.
Eyewitnesses say what happened next is something they will never forget. Whether it was because the tiger was distracted by the “large hairdo” of a woman seated near the front row, or the tiger was agitated at Roy, or Roy was not paying close enough attention to the animal, is something that we may never know, and depends on who you believe; The non-animal professionals who were in attendance, the professional animal trainers who were not in attendance on that night, or the casino owners and show performers, who have a somewhat vested interest to make sure paying customers feel safe when they book a vacation for their family.
Regardless of which story you’re inclined to consider, all accounts record that at some point, the large cat became distracted, and according to many, the trained beast laid down on stage and gazed menacingly at the woman with the “large hair.” Roy, likely sensed the possible danger, and placed himself between Montecore and the audience, and according to some animal trainers, this was also the point where Roy Horn placed himself in a life-threatening situation.
Animal handlers need to be extremely precise during routines, especially when dealing with a creature of that size and capability to harm. Any variation from the norm can cause confusion in the animal. When Roy stepped in front of the tiger, and did not remain to the tiger’s side, Montecore may have become disoriented, or worse, agitated, and locked it’s immense jaws on Roy’s arm.
In an attempt to regain position as the “dominant animal,” and to cause the tiger to release it’s grip, Roy Horn verbally reprimanded Montecore, and repeatedly struck the tiger on the nose with his microphone.
Audience member Jonathan Cohen recounted to the New York Post, “Roy tugged the tiger to get him into the middle of the stage, but the tiger didn’t like that so much and came up and bumped him with his head. Then the tiger just went for him. He bit him in the neck and literally picked him up and dragged him [off the stage] as if he were a wild animal attacking his prey.”
Crew members were able to separate the two by spraying the tiger with a fire extinguisher. The tiger reportedly went back to his cage of his own accord.
Animal experts stress that Montecore’s attack to Roy’s neck may have been a kill bite, and it is in the nature of a wild animal to take his quarry back to his “cave” and finish the job. Others suggest that perhaps the white tiger was at a stage in it’s life were it felt it was time to challenge the alpha male (Roy) for authority. Steve Wynn, the owner of the Mirage described the events differently.
According to Wynn, the tiger “gently” grabbed Roy’s arm with his teeth, and neither scratched Roy, or even tore his costume. Roy then tripped over the cat’s paw, and fell on his back which lead stagehands to come rushing to Roy’s safety. It was at that time that Montecore, in a state of confusion, and in an effort to protect Roy from harm, grabbed Roy by the neck with his teeth, which inadvertently caused the puncture wounds that caused Roy to lose blood. Roy lost so much blood in fact that he suffered a stroke according to doctors.
Roy Horn himself disputes Steve Wynn’s account, as well as the accounts of the doctors and eyewitnesses, and claims he suffered the stroke onstage, and Montecore sensing his master’s life was in jeopardy tried to drag Roy to a secure place.
One thing that has never been in dispute is Roy Horn’s love for animals. While in the ambulance it was widely reported that Roy summoned the strength to plead, “Don’t kill the cat.”
There is no mention of the incident on Siegfried and Roy’s official website, www.siegfriedandroy.com, and the news archive section of the site jumps from August of 2003 to May of 2004.
There is also talk that a video of the attack exists, and some reports even claim Steve Wynn has viewed it, and made the decision not to release the video to the Federal Government for fear it would find it’s way to the internet.
Roy Horn has been seen more and more at social events in recent months, and while it’s not yet known if he will ever make a full recovery, let alone perform on a grand scale again, he is doing better and the pair continues to throw themselves into their life’s passion, entertainment and animals.
* Editors note: According to a recent Wikipedia entry, The duo gave their final performance on February 28, 2009, after a hiatus of over five years.