Few will forget when a white tiger viciously attacked Roy Horn in 2003 during Siegfried & Roy’s Las Vegas show.
The attack ended the careers of Horn and his partner, Siegfried Fischbacher, as an audience of 1,500 watched 400-pound tiger Mantacore bite Roy and drag him offstage.
The explanation has always been that Roy suffered a stroke, and the tiger reacted to protect him.
Now, trainer Chris Lawrence has spoken out to The Hollywood Reporter, claiming Roy himself is to blame for the accident.
In a long interview, Lawrence says Horn was spending too little time with the tigers before shows, eroding the bond between animal and performer.
“Many of the handlers thought that Roy was treating the cats more like props than he was respecting them for who they were,” Lawrence explains to THR. “That can only work as long as there are no variables, which is impossible considering that you’re dealing with a living, thinking animal.”
Lawrence, 45, has been diagnosed with PTSD, and says he is recovering from alcohol abuse, night terrors and suicidal thoughts. He tells THR he’s speaking out now to set out the facts before a planned biopic Siegfried & Roy reportedly have in the works.
The night of the accident, Oct. 3, 2003, was Horn’s 59th birthday. Because the audience was filled with Horn’s friends, the handler says he persuaded Horn to perform with the impressive Mantacore.
“This moment haunts me to my core and plagues me with overwhelming guilt,” says Lawrence. “I actually talked Roy into using the tiger that would ultimately maul him and end the most successful stage show in the history of Las Vegas.”
He says Mantacore was quickly off his mark in the performance and into “uncharted waters.”
“What Roy did was, instead of walking Mantacore 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 says. “Mantacore’s face was right in (Horn’s) midsection. By Roy not following the correct procedure, it fed into confusion and rebellion.”
When the tiger bit at Horn’s sleeve, Lawrence made a move to intervene, tempting him with raw meat. The trainer grabbed Mantacore’s leash, and the tiger managed to knock both men down.
“I vividly remember thinking, ‘Here he comes,’ and I experienced all of the things that you hear about prior to your death,” he recalls. But the tiger was only interested in Horn, dragging the unconscious performer off the stage.
Horn was rushed to the hospital and survived multiple surgeries. But since then, the now-74-year-old has had difficulty walking and talking. The show was immediately shut down.
The USDA investigated, but Lawrence says they never received his statement on what happened that night.
He also says he believes Horn has never been confronted with what caused the attack, and has been shielded from reality.
“It would’ve had to be a private moment with Siegfried, if Roy had asked,” the handler says. “Nobody else would’ve approached him with the hard truth.”
Lawrence worked at the Secret Garden, a small zoo on the property of the Mirage that houses big cats, until three years after the incident, but says he quit because of guilt over Horn’s injuries and his increasing discomfort around animals.
“It’s been 15 years, but I live it every day and every night,” he says. “It’ll never leave me.”
Lawrence’s full interview with THR is available online.