Updated March 28, 2019 - 9:48 pm
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats! podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.