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When a beast bites back

October 09, 2003|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

Las Vegas — I attended the candlelight vigil Sunday night for Siegfried & Roy's Roy Horn, who on Wednesday remained in critical condition after being bitten onstage last week by one of his own tigers.

As a news story, the incident has the appeal of folklore: Man takes beast out of the wild and puts him in a casino, where he performs seven shows weekly. For a while, everyone seems happy -- man becomes rich and famous, beast has his meals catered. We are all entertained.

Then the inevitable occurs: The beast bites back, and the show is over. This is essentially the same story as "King Kong" or "Jurassic Park" or the incident in 2001 at the Los Angeles Zoo, when Sharon Stone, having run out of ways to say "I love you," arranged a private Father's Day visit with a Komodo dragon for her then-husband Phil Bronstein.

The dragon mistook Bronstein's foot for a white mouse, just as Montecore, a 550-pound white Siberian tiger, evidently mistook Roy for prey. The difference is that Bronstein and the dragon were on a bad first date while Roy and Montecore have been in a relationship for years.

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.

It was this relationship that officials with the show kept referring to in the hours after Horn was admitted, bleeding profusely from a neck wound, to University Medical Center on Friday night. "Roy's feelings are that this has nothing to do with the tiger," Bernie Yuman, Siegfried & Roy's longtime manager, told reporters outside the hospital Sunday.

Given that Horn had had surgery to relieve swelling on his brain, had suffered at least one stroke, was said to be paralyzed on his left side and was unable to breathe on his own, any sentence that began with "Roy's feelings are" seemed dubious.

But there was something endearing, Vegas-style, about the notion that Roy and the tiger, if they met again, would embrace as pals, no hard feelings.

The casino men, not medical officials, were running the show outside the hospital. Because they are casino men, they catered on Saturday -- croissants and the like for the media, more food going upstairs. Also being delivered, by ambulances and not the casino men, were victims on stretchers, in various stages of distress. Sunday night brought the impromptu vigil in the parking lot. (Were the casino men behind it? Was this too cynical? Would the caterers return?)

After some 27 years, and thousands upon thousands of performances, the Siegfried & Roy show was closed indefinitely on the Strip, and most of those holding candles were performers, technicians and stagehands in the Mirage show, which opened in 1990. People now out of work, suddenly.

"We thought we'd take some time off and come back in December," said a teary-eyed Ann Richards, a dancer in the show.

There was at least one media outlet per Vegas magician in the crowd: Lance Burton (the Monte Carlo), Penn & Teller (the Rio), the Amazing Jonathan (the Flamingo). The legend Channing Pollock. But the most amazing sight was Siegfried Fischbacher, his blond coif visible from a distance. He had not appeared since the night of the attack, telling the audience to go home. Now he stood watching the vigil from the fourth story of the adjacent parking garage. He was way up there, and we were way down here. He seemed a king in seclusion, staring down at his subjects.

All in all, it was a night when you could experience the unthinkable, or at least the difficult: sympathy for the magician who tempts death.

Many have mocked that David Blaine guy, hanging over the Thames River in a glass box. Would anyone mourn if he fell in? But Roy -- here was a guy who had been taking his life in his hands, consorting with tigers night in and night out, so that we might admire the great beasts from up close, come to know them.

As for the beast, he was back at the Mirage. The merchandise -- refrigerator magnets, calendars, postcards, T-shirts -- continued to move, but the tiger was in quarantine. Awaiting reconciliation in a place where time stands still.

Paul Brownfield can be contacted at

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