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THE NATION

Illusionist's Condition 'Grim' After Tiger Attack

October 05, 2003|Christine Hanley and Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writers

LAS VEGAS — Illusionist Roy Horn, who with partner Siegfried Fischbacher parlayed big-production magic and disappearing white tigers into one of the most successful and longest-running shows on the Las Vegas Strip, remained in critical condition Saturday after being attacked onstage by one of the show's veteran animals.

Horn's condition showed no improvement Saturday after overnight surgery to repair a life-threatening bite to his neck that stunned a Friday night showroom filled with 1,500 people.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 04, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
Siegfried & Roy -- Articles in various sections of The Times have been in conflict about the weight of the tiger that mauled illusionist Roy Horn on Oct. 3. Times reports have given its weight as 300, 550 and 600 pounds. Siegfried & Roy's publicist and Las Vegas animal control officials said the tiger weighed about 380 pounds.

Horn, who turned 59 on Friday, suffered a major loss of blood. Mayor Oscar Goodman described Horn's condition as "grim." But the hospital offered no official comment Saturday on Horn's condition; it was hotel officials who described Horn's condition as critical but stable.

Friday's attack occurred about 45 minutes into the pair's 7:30 p.m. performance, when Horn -- the dark-haired partner -- stood alone on the huge stage and introduced Montecore, a 7-year-old royal white Siberian tiger. He told the audience that it was the cat's first appearance onstage -- a line he delivers at every show to elicit oohs and aahs from the audience. In fact, the tiger -- one of about 60 white tigers owned by the show and 20 that are used any given night -- had performed onstage for several years.

On Friday, Horn instructed the tiger to lie down, but the animal balked. Horn tapped the animal on its nose with his microphone to get the cat's attention, and Montecore grabbed the illusionist's arm.

As Horn stumbled, the 550-pound animal lunged at his neck, knocked him to the ground and pulled him offstage.

Many in the audience thought the scene unfolding before them was part of the show, but sitting in the third row, Dagmar Rethmann and Karl Heinz Wunschmeier knew better. The two are cofounders of Siegfried & Roy's fan club, and Rethmann had seen the show at least 15 times.

"At the moment the tiger didn't lay down like Roy told him to, we knew something was wrong," Rethmann said.

While some in the audience laughed at what they thought was a gag, others froze in terror. Fischbacher and stagehands dressed in black ran across the stage after Horn and the tiger, and shouting could be heard from backstage. Someone grabbed a fire extinguisher and sprayed the animal -- as crew members had been trained to do -- until the tiger released its grasp.

A shaken Fischbacher returned to the stage and announced that the show was canceled. "God bless Roy," he said and then left.

Paramedics arrived within 10 minutes and struggled to staunch the bleeding by applying direct pressure to Horn's neck while he was driven to the hospital less than two miles away.

Clark County Fire Department spokesman Robert Leinbach said it was all paramedics could do to stop the bleeding from the left side of Horn's throat without shutting down the performer's ability to breathe. Paramedics didn't notice whether Horn's arm had been wounded in the attack. "There was massive blood loss, and that's what their priority was," Leinbach said.

Horn was conscious and talking to paramedics en route to the trauma center, Leinbach said, and was rushed immediately into surgery.

The animal was quarantined in a cage at the Siegfried & Roy Secret Garden, part public exhibit of their animals and part working facility where the performing animals are kept.

On Saturday, local celebrities, entertainers and politicians visited University Medical Center, but none were allowed close to Horn's room on the hospital's fourth floor.

In a prepared statement, Fischbacher -- who first teamed up with Horn on an ocean liner when they were teenage crew members -- thanked fans for their "continued prayers and reflections."

"For more than four decades, I have had the great privilege of standing at the side of this remarkable man, and I will continue to do so during this very challenging time," he said.

In a town nonplused by celebrity, S&R, as they were known, had broken all the records. After playing at three other hotel showrooms for years, they settled in at the Mirage in 1990, just after it opened as one of a new generation of themed resorts and where they were asked to eschew bawdy, adult-themed entertainment in favor of high-production family fare.

Their popularity quickly rivaled the success of such Vegas standards as Elvis Presley, the Rat Pack and Wayne Newton.

At the Mirage, the act's position as a Las Vegas icon was firmly cemented; since 1990, they had filled a 1,500-seat showroom for 5,750 performances, and in 2001 were granted by Mirage a "contract for life."

But for now, the show is canceled indefinitely, and at least through Christmas, hotel officials said.

Terry Lanni, chairman of the board of MGM Mirage, called the duo the heart of the resort.

"Throughout the history of Las Vegas, no artists have meant more to the development of Las Vegas' global reputation as the entertainment capital of the world than Siegfried & Roy," he said.

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