The clock was ticking on the inevitable on Oct. 3, 2003, when the stage came alive for Siegfried &Roy’s 7:30 p.m. performance at The Mirage.
It was 8:21 p.m.
“You can have three dogs around the house; you can’t have 30,” said Jimmy Lavery, who worked for Siegfried &Roy’s security team from 1984 to 2003.
Horn, the show’s ringmaster, had 60-some big cats.
After an astronomical 30,000 live shows, the odds were growing that the danger of working with so many exotic cats, with almost 50 onstage every night, would catch up.
The theater ushers were keenly aware of the risk.
One of the most strictly enforced rules of the show banned children from being near the orchestra pit.
“It was orders from Siegfried &Roy, in case kids reached and tried to pet one of the animals,” recalled a former usher who worked the showroom for years. “We couldn’t take a chance.
“One time,” the usher said, “a German man with two boys, probably 8 or 9, was really upset when I told him he couldn’t sit there. When he came out, he asked for a manager. He was furious.”
The first sign that something was amiss occurred moments after Horn and Montecore, one of his star white tigers, walked onstage in front of the crowd of 1,500.
Eyewitnesses said something distracted Montecore and the big cat moved toward the front of the stage. Horn tried a blocking move but lost control of the leash.
Twice he barked the command “Release!” while striking Montecore in the face with a wireless microphone.
During the struggle for control, Horn stumbled and fell backward. In an instant, the 400-pound Montecore attacked, biting Horn on the right side of his neck and carried him off, leaving a trail of blood.
Someone called 911. A quick-thinking onlooker — one of the unsung heroes — sprayed Montecore with a fire extinguisher, causing the tiger to break its grip.
Paramedics were on the way, but their ambulance was first delayed at a train crossing, and then by a wrong turn or two in back of The Mirage.
Those delays, insists Siegfried &Roy manager Bernie Yuman, “did not make any difference.”
Yuman, who got a call at home that something serious had happened, rushed to University Medical Center, arriving within 13 minutes.
He walked through the double doors of UMC’s Trauma Center where he found Horn on a table “laying dead. He had flat-lined.”
For decades, Yuman had told Horn and almost everyone else that the illusionist “had the will of 1,000 men. And I told him this many times, ‘Someday you will return from the dead.’
“And he did.”
The final installment of this three-part series will end here Wednesday with: The Aftermath. Siegfried &Roy plan an announcement Thursday, the 10th anniversary of the incident, during a private event in a ballroom at The Mirage.
THE SCENE AND HEARD
Kid Rock’s concert for the one-year anniversary of Derek Stevens’ The D had a New Year’s-like crowd rocking Fremont Street on Saturday. VIPs included former NFL star Jevon Kearse, poker player Ben Lamb and Tillman Fertitta, owner of the Golden Nugget. Kid Rock’s Detroit pal, Uncle Kracker, performed Thursday night. Stevens is also from Detroit.
THE PUNCH LINE
“There’s a new reality TV show in the works that will apparently send celebrities into space. Or as Gary Busey put it, ‘They’re sending me home?’ ” — Jimmy Fallon
Norm’s column appears on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 702-383-0244 or email@example.com. Follow @Norm_Clarke on Twitter; explore normclarke.com. “Norm Clarke’s Vegas” airs Thursdays on “Morning Blend” on KTNV-TV, Ch. 13.