Roy Horn remembers being at death’s door on his 59th birthday, his heartbeat undetectable after being mauled by one of his rare white tigers.
“He told me he saw the light,” said longtime friend Lynnette Chappell, who portrayed the Evil Queen in the Siegfried & Roy show.
While being rushed from The Mirage to the University Medical Center about 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 3, 2003, Horn was briefly clinically dead from blood loss before he was resuscitated.
“Roy has an angel sitting on his shoulder,” said Chappell.
“Two of them,” added Siegfried Fischbacher, referring to a second life-threatening crisis within 12 hours.
That came the next morning when doctors were surprised to find Horn’s brain swelled from what was described as a fairly large stroke and required surgery to relieve the pressure.
Surgeons performed a decompressive craniectomy, a procedure that involved removal of about one-quarter of Horn’s skull.
The removed portion was implanted in a pouch in Horn’s abdomen, allowing the skull piece to survive in a sterile environment.
Had the stroke occurred on the other side, doctors have said it likely would have robbed Horn of his ability to talk, think and remember.
No one will ever know what caused the 400-pound tiger named Montecore to bite Horn’s neck and drag him back stage, but theories abound.
Jimmy Lavery, who worked security for Siegfried & Roy from 1984 to mid-2003, believes Montecore’s behavior may be related to several factors.
Horn’s birthday party was held on Oct. 2 on the Siegfried & Roy stage for the first time. “You had food and drink up there,” he said.
The stage was also being used for rehearsals for a Cuban troupe Siegfried & Roy was bringing to Las Vegas. “They were relighting the stage. The crew worked nights on end for this,” said Lavery.
“Whether the cat sensed (the changes), I don’t know,” he said.
Ironically, Horn, in his last interview before the incident, told me (while he was driving to work about 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 3) that one of his first big cats went berserk during Siegfried and Roy’s debut at the Tropicana in the late 1960s.
The cheetah was spooked, said Horn, by the new surroundings – the lights, the smells and band – and ran off the stage and landed in the orchestra pit.
During the telephone conversations with Fischbacher and Chappell, I asked them to comment on a rumor I heard that Horn had requested that the Oct. 3 be cancelled because he wasn’t feeling well.
Both vehemently denied it. That would have been out of character for any of the three, they said.
Fischbacher, however, acknowledged in rare detail that “Roy realized it was going to be a little tough because we had partied.” Not just at the Oct. 2 birthday party, but earlier that morning, as well, at a private residence. At that V.I.P. party, they arrived about 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 3, following their two performances, and left about 6 a.m.
Siegfried said Horn changed his routine with Montecore that night. When Montecore placed his weight on Horn by resting his paws on Horn’s shoulders, “Roy couldn’t handle the weight. He felt dizzy, strange. He was passing out.”
Horn would normally give Montecore a treat after that routine, but “because Roy felt strange, he (Montecore) don’t get a treat.” When Montecore wandered to the front of the stage, and Horn was struggling to control him, that’s when Horn had a small stroke, said Siegfried.
What happened next, said Chappell, was something Montecore had done “since he was an infant. He would rescue his sister or brother” by taking them away by the neck. “When Roy went down, Montecore removed him from chaos.”
“Roy thinks Montecore saved his life by taking him backstage,” Fischbacher
“There were a lot of miracles,” Chappell said. “Needless to say, the biggest one comes from Roy himself. He’s such an inspiration.”
THE PUNCH LINE
“Even if the government shuts down, Americans don’t care. The last time Americans cared about anything was when they shut down the Twinkie factory. ” — David Letterman
Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 702-383-0244 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find more online at www.normclarke.com. Follow Norm on Twitter @Norm_Clarke. “Norm Clarke’s Vegas,” airs Thursdays on the “Morning Blend” on KTNV-TV, Channel 13.