Roy Horn & Montecore, the White Tiger – by Joe Oesterle

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,, 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.


10 thoughts on “Roy Horn & Montecore, the White Tiger – by Joe Oesterle

  1. Joe,
    Great job on the article, very moving and I hope Roy continues to progress with his recovery. It was also nice to hear that even after the attack. Roy still cared for the Tiger’s well being.

  2. Very nice story! Do you know what happened to the tiger? Was it put to sleep? Is it still alive? it does not appear on the ofiicial website?
    Thank you!

  3. Hard to know who to believe. Sure, things can certainly go wrong on a variety of levels when man attempts to control beast. Thats a given. But, there is not video I can find available, and eyewitnesses all tell a story which only are consistent on one point…..that the cat was distracted at some point. Some say wild came through and the cat attacked. Some say he was challenging the alpha males dominance. Some say Roy tripped and the tiger sensing something wasnt right was actually trying to aid him. Roy himself says he suffered the stroke before he was drug from the stage, and the animal sensed the physical trauma and reacted in trying to aid his partner. Then again, Roy would say anything to diminish negative light on this wonderful animal. I understand that. We may never really know, and I guess that’ll have to be okay. Thanks guys, for the decades of entertainment that will never be forgotten.

    1. Gil,
      I appreciate your comment, and agree with your point. There are a number of stories of what may have happened, and it’s entirely possible we will never get the true story. Even if we could view the video tape from that night, it likely wouldn’t definitively explain how and why the animal acted the way it did, but the point is, as well-trained and cared for as Montecore was, he is still at his core, a wild animal. My guess is he didn’t aggressively attack, but his actions were without question potentially deadly.
      There is also no doubt in my mind there was video of the incident. Las Vegas has utilized video surveillance in its casinos and stages way before the attack and there were most likely multiple camera angles.
      Most Vegas insiders I spoke to assume Steve Wynn refused to allow the footage to ever see the light of day. Common sense tells me those insiders are absolutely correct in their hunch.

  4. My daughter was at the performance and she says the lady with the big bouffant red hairdo tried to pet Montecore and the cat began staring at her red hair, not knowing what to make of it. Throughtout the act, (according to my daughter) Montecore would drift over to the lady in an attempt to possibly size her up as a threat. That’s what precipitated the attack or whatever it was on Roy. The lady recklessly started the whole ball ralling.

    1. Trevor, thanks for your second hand report. I hold a lot of stock in the hair-do theory, so it’s nice to have some info like this. – Joe

  5. Thank you so much,I know cat’s and the red hair-Do Lady should being paying for Roy’s Hospital bill!
    Montecore Lived and was only trying to protect his Dad,(handler if you may)Roy is doing Amazing, due to this being an act of LOVE.God’s LOVE for All Creatures.

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