During the early hours of Roy Horn’s 59th birthday, on Oct. 3, 2003, the performer celebrated with a ritzy, post-show bash at the Mirage in Las Vegas. Some 500 guests dined and danced and marveled at the ice sculpture of a roaring white tiger on its haunches. The soul-patched magician, then a toast of Sin City — along with his personal and professional partner, Siegfried Fischbacher — blew out candles on a cake fittingly adorned with tiny models of big cats.
Revved up, he announced to the crowd: “I’m celebrating and celebrating and celebrating … ”
Some eight hours later, onstage in the casino’s custom-built Siegfried & Roy Theater, Horn was viciously attacked by one of his beloved white tigers, a 400-pound Bengal called Mantecore. The moniker translates from Persian and Latin as “man eater” — “a bizarre name,” admitted Francisco Rodriguez, director of the Guadalajara zoo from where Horn and Fischbacher purchased the cat
Medical magic saved the life of Roy Horn, but Siegfried & Roy’s show at the Mirage — which grossed a reported $45 million per year — shut down permanently as allegations circulated that the tiger attack may not have been random.
“There were theories that it was not an accident and that somebody triggered the tiger,” Steven Leckart told The Post. He’s the executive producer and host of the Apple TV+ podcast, “Wild Things: Siegfried & Roy,” which premieres Jan. 12 and zeros in on the tragic night. “You wonder why somebody would try to turn a tiger against a magician.”
Among the possibilities floated in the podcast: Animal activists seeking revenge, someone attempting to financially hobble the city of Las Vegas and even homophobia.
“It was viewed as a potential hate crime,” Leckart said. “[Authorities] have to explore lots of possibilities, no matter how far-fetched. Motives that were explored seemed bananas — and they are.”
The Mirage received an email which read: “If there is audio & video of the tiger attack it should be analyzed for far-UV and or high ultra-sonics, as well as other triggers that might be the work of a terrorist aiming at a high profile GAY target.”
That tip, like others, was included in a government report.
Said Leckart: “It was the wildest case investigators ever worked on.”
Almost immediately after the mauling, Las Vegas Metro Police Department arrived on the scene and began to sift through evidence.
“They viewed it as an actual crime. There were crime scene investigators, like on the ‘CSI’ TV shows,” said Leckart. “The USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] had a person going undercover and the Homeland Security Division got called in. Investigators spent a lot of time on it.”
Michael Game, who was the Sergeant of Counter Terrorism for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, reveals his directive in the podcast: “Did someone in the audience do something to cause the animal to react the way it did and can we prove it? That was the bottom line, plain and simple. That was how we approached the investigation.”
Nearly two months were devoted to performing background checks on people who attended or worked on the show — and, reportedly, the tiger.
Mirage owner Steve Wynn even jumped into the fray of conspiracy theories.
Wynn pointed out a strange woman from the audience — tall and with a skyscraping beehive hairdo — and wondered if her height might have distracted the tiger.
But then detectives working on the investigation took the tall lady lead a step further.
“The theory was that this woman smuggled a scent in her hairdo. After all, who will check a woman’s hair for a small spray bottle?” Leckart said. “The thinking was that there was a pheromone or exotic animal urine that was used to distract the tiger.”
After all, according to the Hollywood Reporter, during a previous backstage visit from Demi Moore, Mantecore’s brother Jahan got “extremely excited” by the scent of the actress’s perfume.
An inside source told The Post that the distracting scent could have even come from Horn himself.
“The theory I heard is that maybe there was something on Roy’s breath that was unusual. Maybe he had eaten something unusual. Maybe there was something lingering from his birthday party the night before — it could have been alcohol,” the source said. “Animals are conditioned to do things under certain circumstances. When the circumstances change, they do things differently. The animal may have sensed something wrong and wanted to take Roy to his safe spot, which would have been his cage.”
Horn himself offered the most benign what-if of all. The performer suffered from high blood pressure and suggested that he may have collapsed due to a medical incident.
“I got a stroke. I fall down. I see his blue eyes stare up at me,” Horn told “Entertainment Tonight,” and referring to Mantecore — who remained under the care of Fischbacher and Horn after the attack — as his blood brother. “He did what every cat would do. He picked me up by the neck and carried me to the side. He relieved the blood pressure or I would be brain dead. I would be a vegetable.”
Maybe so. But Jonathan Kraft, a tiger expert with the Arizona animal sanctuary Keepers of the Wild, isn’t having. “The cat was going for the jugular,” he opined to The Post in 2003. “That was a typical killing bite.”
Some speculate that Horn had only himself to blame for what happened. According to Chris Lawrence, who served as animal handler for the Siegfried & Roy show, Horn had become increasingly distant from the animals that he once adored.
“Many of the handlers thought that Roy was treating the animals more like props than he was respecting them for who they were,” Lawrence told the Hollywood Reporter. “That can only work as long as there are no variables, which is impossible considering that you’re dealing with a living, thinking animal. I am positive that Roy’s diminishing relationship with Mantecore was a key factor in the attack.” Siegfried & Roy disputed this claim.
“I remember Roy [once] giving me a reminder that he and Siegfried work with wild animals conditioned to be in a given environment at a given moment,” Alan Feldman, former vice president of communications for Mirage, told The Post. “They are not tamed animals.”
The night of the incident, Mantecore missed his mark on stage, stepped toward the front row and became confused as Horn pulled him back. The tiger grabbed Horn’s arm in his mouth. Horn swatted his microphone on the tiger’s head, executing a secondary command to obey: “Release.”
The cat did as told, then placed a paw on Horn’s foot. The man tripped backward and the tiger loomed over him. Then Mantecore pounced.
Teeth ripped into Horn’s neck. He was dragged 30 feet offstage, unable to breathe and gushing blood. Stagehands sprayed Mantecore with a fire extinguisher, to no avail. Next they beat him with the fire extinguisher itself. That worked.
Mantecore let go, but by then he had torn his master’s jugular vein, narrowly missing the carotid artery. Horn was rushed to University Medical Center, 4.7 miles away from the Mirage. A videotape, seen by just a few casino executives, is said to have captured the carnage.
Though the 2003 incident may have been the most extreme example of Fischbacher and Horn’s wild animals reverting to form, it is not the only one.
In 1970, when the duo had a contract to perform at Puerto Rico’s Americana Hotel, a black panther staying in the bedroom tore up the waterbed and caused a flood. Years later, while Fischbacher and Horn were frolicking in the ocean while on vacation in Puerto Rico, Fischbacher revealed what is described in the podcast as “scars and stuff up his arms and on his hands.”
On another occasion, Horn was pinned down by a tiger and escaped by biting the animal on the nose. “She jumped up and never tried anything else,” he says in a recording that is part of the podcast.
Another time, during the 1990s, the pair took a sudden hiatus from performing and Fischbacher was spotted at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, walking around with his arm in a cast. Later, he acknowledged the injury in an interview with Diane Sawyer when she asked about the “chunk of your arm taken off by a lion [and requiring] 33 stitches.”
Horn met his partner-to-be in 1957, on a German cruise ship. Fischbacher was performing magic and Horn was a cabin boy with a wild streak: He had smuggled aboard a cheetah named Chico, obtained from a zoo through a family connection, and kept it in his cabin. He convinced Fischbacher to let him join the magic act and incorporate Chico.
The duo’s big break came in Monte Carlo, when they were invited to perform at a Red Cross gala. Chico leaped into the audience. “We got a standing ovation,” they later told Larry King. Miraculously, no one was injured and a local paper touted them as “The New Kings of Magic.”
Vegas residencies eventually followed, first at mobbed-up joints like the Tropicana and Stardust, then at the Frontier and finally at Mirage.
“They were part of flicking the switch from old Vegas to new,” Anthony Curtis, publisher of Las Vegas Advisor, told The Post. “They were the first $100 ticket in town and changed the way casinos operated — making money in areas other than gambling. They broke the ceiling, but Roy being mauled was the show’s death knell. They couldn’t do anything beyond that.”
Instead, the partners holed up elegantly, on an elaborate Vegas estate known as Little Bavaria — “a work of art and very ornate,” said Feldman of the 100-acre spread that featured an aquatic park and multiple mansions. There were occasional public appearances, TV interviews and a final, muted 2009 performance that had Horn limping on stage with Fischbacher’s support. They performed a single illusion that included Mantecore.
Thinking back on what Horn and Fischbacher accomplished, Leckart said, “Before them, there was nothing like what they were doing. Magicians came to the shows and their jaws hit the floor. You had to be there to really understand just how insane it all was.”
That insanity leaked into expert’s views of the incident that upended the Siegfried & Roy show.
“Everybody that we interviewed who dealt with tigers and exotic animals understands the risk. None of them were surprised by what happened,” said Leckart. “But, because of Siegfried & Roy’s history and how good Roy was with the animals, they were shocked.”
What the duo did with their big cats, he added, “was not an illusion.”
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