A couple of years ago I co-wrote a book called “Weird Las Vegas” with a gentleman named Tim Cridland (AKA Zamora the Torture King.) The book included chapters on ghost stories, urban legends, folk art, unique local celebrities, the occasional mob hit and roadside attractions. I was very honored to chronicle many of Sin City’s more bizarre tales.
For whatever reason, a number of my favorite anecdotes were left out of the original book, so I’ve decided to share them all with everyone via the internet. I’ll be adding a story every week or two for the next couple months. Hope everyone enjoys. – Joe Oesterle
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, 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.
The World’s Biggest Elvis Impersonator by Joe Oesterle
Pete Vallee has made a huge career for himself in Las Vegas. Some would say Pete Vallee has an enormous amount of talent. Pete Vallee chuckles at the fact that he has tons of groupies, and that was an ample load of synonyms for the word “overweight” to set-up a story about Pete Vallee – the 600-pound Elvis impersonator.
Vallee has been performing his homage to Elvis twice daily, every Monday through Thursday at the Barbary Coast since 2002, and the standing room only crowds at each show are a testament to Vallee’s humongous appeal. Women will sometimes flash their breasts at the larger-than-life performer when as he performs his ode to one of Rock-n-Rolls originals. Men have been known to get swept up into the act as well. “We had one guy start stripping in the casino during one of my shows” recalls the rotund troubadour.
The king-sized King imitator has always been a sizable man, “I’m 6 foot three, and used to weigh about 260-270 – I was built like a football player,” offers Vallee, but large portions of fast food pushed the beefy entertainer to an alarming 900 pounds in just a few years, limiting the entire physical part of his performance to a sitting in a chair on the middle of the stage.
Vallee’s manager Lucille Star confided that in May of 2006 Vallee missed 2 to 3 weeks of work when her biggest client started to find simple everyday activities like getting out of bed to be much harder than it used to be.
Vallee maintains, “I’m down under 600 right now, but I’d like to get to 285…I’ve cut out fast food, and now I’m eating chicken and fish and vegetables, and I swim an hour a day.”
That all sounds like the smart and healthy thing to do, but when you bill yourself as “Big Elvis,” it might concern your employers that by trimming another 300 pounds off your weight, it may also trim the interest in the audience who enjoy the uniqueness of watching such a massive musician.
According to both the singer and his manager, the Barbary Coast has been very supportive of Vallee’s recent health kick, and even if he drops down to the second or third biggest Elvis in Las Vegas, Pete Vallee may have another hook no other lounge singer in the city has. Vallee may be the biological son of the late Elvis Aaron Presely.
Star disclosed that Vallee’s mother, Memphis recording artist Dolores Vallee, revealed to her son on her deathbed that the man Vallee had been told was his biological father was not, and that she had a long-time affair with Elvis Presley which culminated in Vallee’s birth in 1965.
Star claims there is enough circumstantial evidence to at least give credence to the claim. There are photos of the two, and many of the musicians who appeared on Elvis’ records also appeared on Dolores’.
“Interesting forms of DNA” have also been presented to Vallee and Star. Some of the supposed samples are Elvis’ tooth, strands of the deceased vocalists’ hair, sweat, spit, and even a bloodstained sheet.
It turns out that even if Vallee is not legitimately the illegitimate son of his idol, he does share a rare trait with Presely. So far in his life, Vallee has given away three Cadillacs. Some may call that excessive, but Vallee might just call it an appetizer.
Lucky Chengs – by Joe Oesterle
I’d like to preface this story by saying I have a girlfriend, a very pretty girlfriend. A girlfriend so pretty in fact that friends of mine are always surprised that someone as pretty as her would go out with a guy like me. (Naturally these so-called friends of mine always fail to factor in my immeasurable charm.)
Anyway, my girlfriend is also very feminine. She loves to wear high heels and skirts, gets her hair and nails done weekly, and extends her pinky finger when she drinks things. Of course so do many of the men who work at Lucky Cheng’s.
Lucky Cheng’s (3049 Las Vegas Blvd. located in the Gold Key Shops) is unlike any other restaurant on the Strip. Sure you can dine just about anywhere in Vegas and be served by young attractive waitresses who dress to impress, and go out of their way to flirt and make a man feel special, but the wait staff at Lucky Cheng’s are all divas… and these divas are dudes.
Inside, the ambience is dark and rich. Chinese lanterns, dragons, and statuettes of Buddha surround red sparkly lacquered tables and black upholstered chairs, but the bass line of the Bee Gees “Jive Talking” bumping through the sound system reminds me I am not in the mystic Orient, but rather a transgendered cabaret in Sin City. If I needed any further help reminding me of my surroundings, the visual of Naya Simone hammers the point home in no uncertain terms.
Standing roughly 6 ft 3 in white patent 70’s style platform shoes and a multi-colored, micro-mini polyester dress, Ms Simone is busty cross between Flip Wilson’s character, “Geraldine,” and a guy who could kick my ass. I have no reason to fear Naya though, she’s as gentle as can be, and hands me a drink list.
The libations menu is hot pink, with the slogan, “Remember, the more you drink, the prettier we look” emblazoned across the bottom. I peruse the selections, passing on Mona’s Mother Pucker, Slink’s Slinkee Dinkee Dogg, and even Maya’s own, Maya’s Pool Boy, and decide to give Heather’s Pink P*#@#^ (word I’m not allowed to use in this book) a try.
Naya takes my order, and quickly returns with the drink that dare not speak its name, and sits down and talks a little. I notice her whorish sweet perfume and inquire as to its title, “It’s called ‘Angel’” she demurs, “and it screams, ‘I’m available!’”
But as it turns out she’s not available for chit-chat for long, because the show is about to start. Naya energetically lip synchs to risqué burlesque tunes, swings on a stripper pole, and using her “feminine” charms, coaxes heterosexual men to be part of her performance.
There is a break in the action as the men don the wigs and feather boas Maya has provided them. “How can you tell which guys are straight? I innocently ask as I order another pink drink,
“Oh, I can tell. I like to pick uncomfortable straight guys for my ‘Drag-Off.” She replies.
The four guys she did pick certainly seemed straight and uncomfortable, especially after the imposing hostess rechristened them with new names, like Bendover Becky, and Backdoor Barbie, but to their credit, each one got into the spirit of things and these former macho men were prancing, sashayed and shaking what the good Lord gave them in no time at all.
A 3 course Pan Asian, price fixe meal is served during Naya’s routine, and while it would be impossible to upstage the evening’s entertainment, the food was delicious.
During the entire performance, a gentleman who twisted balloons into very ungentlemanly positions went from table to table showing off his unique ability. At one point in the evening the number of patrons with phallic shaped inflatables on their head outweighed the customers whose head was not so garishly adorned.
After her dancing, singing and contests, Naya cozied up to me at my table and I told her how much I enjoyed the show. A tad bit confused as to why I wasn’t chosen as one of the “uncomfortable straight” guys, I asked Naya if I came off as straight or not.
“Oh honey,” Naya giggled as she playfully grazed my chin with her well-manicured index finger,” I knew you were straight the minute you walked in that door.”
My first thought was one of relief, and then I started questioning my wardrobe and haircut. Maybe I should have ironed my shirt a little more fastidiously; perhaps I should stop getting my hair cut at Bargain-Cuts on five-dollar day.
“So am I one of those straight guys with no sense of style?” I inquired.
“Not at all, baby… You are cute… and you’re all man.”
As I left there full, half-drunk,fully entertained and two balloon creatures sexually exploring each other on top of my head, I couldn’t help but ponder… I bet she says that to all the boys.
Hunting for Bambi – by Joe Oesterle
In 2003, Las Vegas businessman Michael Burdick, set up a website which offered anyone with ten thousand dollars the chance to arm themselves with live ammo and hunt real human beings.
It is more than a tad reminiscent of the classic 1924 short story by Richard Connell, entitled “The Most Dangerous Game,” in which an expert big game hunter, bored with conventional prey, decides humans are the only quarry worthy of his own cunning. The chief difference between that well-known piece of fiction, and Burdick’s website, is author Connell did not have the foresight to depict his hunted protagonist as a naked woman, nor did it ever dawn on the early 20th century essayist to have his marksman use a paintball gun. Michael Burdick did both.
HuntingForBambi.com promised each hunter would be flown to Las Vegas and given the opportunity to choose between 30 a menu of naked women. According to the site, these women were all paid volunteers, and ranged in attractiveness between the “girl next door,” to the “perfect 10.” The site also assured the consumer would “chase down (the women) and shoot (them) like dogs.” There was also a liberal amount of sophomoric innuendo and entendre throughout the site as such obviously hilarious double-meaning words like “rack” and “mount” are peppered into almost every other paragraph.
The website grabbed nationwide media awareness shortly after local KLAS newswoman, LuAnne Sorrell broadcasted an on the scene report of an actual “hunt” in progress. The segment garnered such attention that soon it seemed every media outlet including USA Today, NBC News, and the Howard Stern Show had devoted a fair amount of time commenting on the story.
Nevada politicians, most notably Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, were not pleased at the coverage Michael Burdick was bringing to their fair city, “We’re going to prosecute him to the full extent the city can, and do everything we can to make sure he doesn’t do any business in the city from this point forward,” blustered an angry Goodman.
The irony to all this is just like “The Most Dangerous Game,” “Hunting For Bambi” was just a story, or more to the point, a story conceived and executed with the sole purpose of selling DVDs and VHS tapes of the staged hunts.
To this day Burdick refuses to admit any of the hunts were phony, and while the website doesn’t appear to have been updated since 12/22/04, the sub-menus still seem to be accepting applications for both hunters and Bambi dolls. The biggest change in the site since Goodman’s threat to prosecute Burdick has not been the content of the video, but rather the marketing of the product. The tone has changed from reality to satire.
This is an example of the marketing (from Snopes.com) before Goodman started looking into criminal charges:
“…without a doubt one of the sickest and most shocking videos ever made. Women are screaming with fear as the Team Bambi hunters track them down and blast them with paintball guns. You’ll also see an actual road kill scene as a semi-truck takes out Bambi on the highway, not to mention fat chicks fighting in the mud, and much, much more.”
Today the tagline is simply, “The most hilarious video ever made.”
The moral of this story is simple. If you have 10,000 extra dollars laying around, you can easily afford to buy a copy of Richard Connell’s thrilling page-turner, and Michael Burdick’s safari-spoof video and be left with more than enough cash in your pocket to strike up a bargain with a pretty good looking girl to do just about anything you want her to do with a paintball. After all, this is Vegas.
Rumors of the Original Roy: by Joe Oesterle
No one who claims it to be true can prove it, but just about every Las Vegas local has heard the rumor of the death of animal-trainer/magician and the darker haired half of the Siegfried and Roy shows, Roy Horn.
The rumor goes like this; during the mid-80’s “everyone” had noticed how thin and sickly the pair of prestidigitators had become. There was talk the duo (who have never openly discussed their sexuality) were lovers, and had contracted the deadly AIDS virus. In a desperate bid to cure themselves of the fatal disease, the duo closed their wildly popular show for an undetermined period of time, and flew to Europe.
Their publicity department said the magicians were given an invitation to meet the Pope in Rome, but many who buy into this piece of dark gossip claim that was merely a cover story for their true reason for the continent-hopping vacation.
The real motivation behind this excursion across the Atlantic (according to those supposedly in the know) was that Siegfried and Roy intended to receive full blood transfusions. Purging their bodies of the lethal epidemic, and leaving them once again healthy enough to entertain, the two would be robust enough to perform their physically demanding act in front of hundreds of thousands of patrons, and make millions of dollars once again.
The tale turns grim at this point, as it appears the operation only cured Siegfried, leaving Roy dead on the surgeon’s table. The distraught surviving sorcerer, not wanting to give up the act, or the money made from it, immediately scuttled off to Germany in search of a cousin of Roy’s who was about the same age and build.
Siegfried gave the unsuspecting European a crash course on animal training and illusion, a piece of the action, and treated Roy’s relative to a complete surgical makeover, so as to resemble late Roy Horn as closely as possible.
Upon returning to the states, there was some talk about how different both of the spell-casters looked, but especially Roy. Most dismissed it as routine cosmetic surgery. Not uncommon in a town that can be unforgiving to aging performers, but a few held to their claim that there was something different about Roy.
Fast forward 17 years later and “Roy” is mauled nearly to death by a white tiger named Montecore. Is this because it wasn’t the real Roy at all, but rather a stand-in who had been riding an almost two decade long lucky streak, cavorting about the stage with 600 pound man-eating beasts?
Some say yes.
Buddy Hackett’s “Oral Contract”
Buddy Hackett may be best known to today’s generation as the voice of Scuttle, the marble-mouthed seagull in Disney’s classic, “The Little Mermaid.” Still others are familiar with the lovable pumpkin-headed goofball for his live action screen work in such family friendly movies as “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” “The Music Man,” and the original “Herbie the Love Bug,” but his legendary Las Vegas performance contract in 1963 certainly was not G-rated.
Hackett was born in Brooklyn, and started his comedy career while still in high school. The chubby faced funnyman cut his teeth in the Borscht Belt resorts in the Catskills in upstate New York until he was noticed by both Hollywood and Las Vegas.
To the baby boomers who grew up on the Rat Pack, Buddy Hackett was known as an adult-only entertainer, for his use of “blue material” during his Vegas performances. While Hackett’s act might come off as mild compared to the language and themes used by today’s comedians, his rumored arrangement for the year of 1963 is about as graphic as it gets.
It has been reported in print and told for years by those “in-the-know,” that on top of being paid handsomely for doing his humorous shtick, Hackett’s arrangement with the casino contained a number of “perks” that would be considered anything but family friendly.
The supposed contract has been documented in at least one book, and at one time purportedly hung at the Tropicana’s, “Casino Legends Hall of Fame.” The alleged document supposedly states that Hackett would be, “provided oral gratification both before and after ‘the show’ by a showgirl of his choice.”
Forgive me if you now can not shake the image of a fat, sweaty, post-gig Buddy Hackett, polyester trousers pulled low around his ankles, gargling down whiskey sours, while some unfortunate burlesque dancer/mother of two, kneels before the bloated, bug-eyed comic, inadvertently tickling his nose with her feathery headdress until he violently erupts in a state of short-lived ecstasy, and collapses on the filthy dressing room couch behind him. (Editor’s note, I am just assuming the couch was filthy. It just makes for a more compelling visual. )
Ahhhh! There’s no business like show business.
The Bizarre Suicide of David Strickland.