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Siegfried and Roy’s handler disputes version of 2003 tiger attack

Updated March 28, 2019 - 9:48 pm

Roy Horn poses with a white tiger on a craps table at McCarran International Airport. (Review-Journal file)

The animal handler onstage the night Roy Horn was dragged offstage by the big cat Mantecore at the Mirage on Oct. 3, 2003, has spoken out for the first time publicly, disputing the version of events that nearly killed Horn and halted Siegfried & Roy’s historic production show.

Chris Lawrence, the animal handler onstage the night the 400-pound white tiger bit down on Horn’s neck, says in a story published and posted today by The Hollywood Reporter that a series of errors by Horn led to the animal’s near-fatal behavior that night.

S&R have long maintained that Roy had suffered a stroke during the performance and tripped while handling the the big cat, which then dragged him offstage as a means to protect him.

Siegfried and Roy at the Stardust. (Review-Journal file)

Las Vegas PR executive Dave Kirvin, spokesman for the legendary duo, declined comment on the new report. Their longtime manager Bernie Yuman also had no comment. And, through a spokesman, MGM Resorts International and the Mirage also offered no comment this morning.

Siegfried and Roy at the Stardust. (Review-Journal file)

Siegfried and Roy pose for a photo with tiger cubs aboard and airplane in June 1987. (Review-Journal file)

Lawrence, who now lives in Orlando, Florida, (and is no relation to the Review-Journal columnist of the same name), says he is speaking out now because he wants to offset the account of the incident planned for the duo’s upcoming biopic, on which the duo are serving as consultants. S&R have enlisted recruited Philipp Stolzl, who directed “The Physician,” to head up the project; no release date has been announced.

Siegfried and Roy at the Frontier in April 1982. (Review-Journal file)

Lawrence, now 45, has also been diagnosed with PTSD, says he is recovering from alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts and nightmares from the incident. He contends that going public will help his own recovery, and that of other trauma victims.

Siegfried and Roy at the Tropicana in May 1985. (Tropicana)

“While Roy, unfortunately, bears the physical scars of the attack,” Lawrence tells the Reporter, “he definitely isn’t the only person that was left suffering in the aftermath of it.”

Siegfried and Roy take a final bow with their tiger Montecore after giving a performance during the 13th annual “Power of Love Gala” at the Bellagio on Feb. 28, 2008, in Las Vegas. (Curtis Dahl Photography)

Well wishers stand outside University Medical Center Trama Center during a candlelight vigil held for Roy Horn on Oct. 12, 2003. (Review-Journal file)

Lawrence further says he remains frustrated that the U.S. Department of Agriculture never secured his testimony in its investigation, which concluded in 2005. The former handler contends he was kept away from the USDA’s report because his version did not match the production’s explanation of events.

Siegfried and Roy perform a magic trick with Mickey Mouse. (Review-Journal file)

The government agency’s findings of the event were inconclusive, placing no blame for the attack. Though the agency reviewed house footage of the event, Lawrence says Horn himself has never seen it.

Entertainers Siegfried and Roy pose with students from Von Tobel Junior High School during the dedication of their statue at The Mirage on Oct. 15, 1993. (Review-Journal file)

In the just-published story, Lawrence says that on the night of the ill-fated performance, Mantecore quickly moved off his mark in the segment of the show called “The Rapport,” in which Horn directed the tiger to stand and place his paws on Horn’s shoulders.

Siegfried Fischbacher, left, and Roy Horn arrive on the red carpet for the opening night of Monty Python’s Spamalot at Wynn Las Vegas on March 31, 2007. (Review-Journal file)

“What Roy did was, instead of walking Mantecore in a circle, as is usually done, he just used his arm to steer him right back into his body, in a pirouette motion,” Lawrence told THR in its published story. “Mantecore ’s face was right in (Horn’s) midsection. By Roy not following the correct procedure, it fed into confusion and rebellion.”

Siegfried Fischbacher, left, and Roy Horn at Roy’s birthday party at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden in Las Vegas on Oct. 4 2018. (John Katsilometes/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Lawrence also says that Horn considered using a cub in that night’s routine, but the handler — in a decision he says still haunts him — suggested Mantecore because the larger, adult tiger would provide a greater dramatic effect. Horn, celebrating his 59th birthday that night, had many VIP friends in the audience.

Siegfried and Roy pose with former President Jimmy Carter. (Review-Journal file)

The handler recalls that during the routine, Mantecore bit into Horn’s sleeve, and Horn responding by tapping the tiger on the nose with his mic, saying, “No,” over and over. Lawrence walked to the stage, attempting to distract the animal with chunks of raw steak. Lawrence then grabbed at Mantecore ’s leash as Horn backed away, and the tiger swung at Horn’s legs and knocked the entertainer to the stage. Lawrence, concerned for his own safety, was also pulled down, falling onto the tiger’s back and to the stage himself.

Siegfried and Roy perform at The Mirage on Feb. 19, 2001. (Review-Journal file)

Mantecore then dragged Horn off-stage. Lawrence, who had lost his grip, called for someone to discharge a fire extinguisher at the tiger. A handling supervisor finally pushed his index finger’s into the tiger’s mouth and pried him free. Mantecore , who died in 2014, was taken away by stagehands.

Siegfried and Roy at the Stardust. (Review-Journal file)

From left, Brad Barnes, Andrea Deashiell and Elizabeth Auten cry as they hold candles during a candlelight vigil for Roy Horn at University Medical Center in Las Vegas on Oct. 5, 2003. All three used to dance for Siegfried & Roy. (Review-Journal file)

Horn was transported to University Medical Center for emergency surgery and to begin his long recovery. He nearly died in the hours after the incident, suffering serious brain damage, and the duo’s stage show ended after some 5,750 performances.

Siegfried and Roy take the stage during their magic show Siegfried & Roy at the Stardust Hotel on Oct. 3, 1980. (Boyd Gaming Corp)

Horn continues his rehabilitation in Las Vegas and the duo, who remain Las Vegas entertainment royalty, still make personal appearances. They were most recently at the Keep Memory Alive Power of Love gala at MGM Grand Garden on March 16. Siegfried still is a frequent visitor to the Secret Garden exotic animal attraction at The Mirage. The duo celebrated Horn’s 74th birthday at the resort on Oct. 3, 15 years after the Mantecore incident, saying, “The show never ends.”

Three-week-old tiger Magic makes his public debut with Siegfried and Roy at their Las Vegas compound in 1976. (Review-Journal file)

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats! podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

A private security detail escorts an ambulance transporting Roy Horn into the Siegfried and Roy compound on Dec. 22, 2003. Horn returned home in time for the Christmas Holiday. (Review-Journal file)
Entertainment legend Rita Moreno with Siegfried & Roy after accepting her Woman of the Year award at the annual Nevada Ballet Theatre Black & White Gala at Aria in Las Vegas on Jan. 26, 2019. (Cashman Photo)
Siegfried and Roy pose with Muhammad Ali. (Las Vegas News Bureau)

Handler disputes Siegfried & Roy’s version of 2003 tiger incident
The handler onstage that night speaks out for the first time publicly
Siegfried Fischbacher, left, and Roy Horn introduce one of their tiger cubs to members of the media during a press conference at their home on June 12, 2008, in Las Vegas. (Review-Journal file)
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