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L.A. THEN AND NOW

Lionizing Frasier, a first-class lover

Frasier was quite the layabout at Lion Country Safari in Laguna Hills, but he famously found the time to father 35 cubs.

January 17, 2010|By Steve Harvey
  • Frasier at Lion Country Safari, where he became famous as a sex symbol. He died of pneumonia in 1972. "I feel he loved himself to death," one vet said.
Frasier at Lion Country Safari, where he became famous as a sex symbol. He… (Lion Country Safari )

A quarter of a century before the dawn of Viagra, American men found hope in the prowess of an aging Lothario named Frasier.

Or Frasier the Sensuous Lion, as he became known at Lion Country Safari in Laguna Hills.

Not that the unimposing beast looked like a sex symbol.

He "hobbled about on weakened legs, his once-lustrous coat was scruffy and his tongue sagged from a toothless mouth," The Times reported.

When Lion Country bought him from a bankrupt Mexican circus in 1970, he was believed to be 18, equivalent to about 80 human years.

Lion Country, then one of a chain of drive-through animal preserves, put the underweight cat on a special diet, and he gained 100 pounds.

Around the same time, the park was having trouble finding a suitable male companion "for a pride of half a dozen healthy females," The Times said.

The lionesses had previously been introduced to five strong young males but "rejected each one, often using physical violence."

So, as "a sort of joke," Frasier was allowed to make their acquaintance.

By "the very next morning," The Times' Gordon Grant reported with admirable restraint, "it was obvious that Frasier had the situation in hand.

"His wives were content."

In the suburb, the mighty suburb, Frasier started fathering one cub after another, about 35 in all.

Jerry Kobrin, a Lion Country vice president, knew a feel-good story when he saw one. He came up with the cat's catchy nickname.

A line of Frasier T-shirts followed, along with Frasier bumper stickers, Frasier wristwatches and Frasier you-name-its.

In a time of disenchantment over the Vietnam War, Frasier was a pleasant distraction -- he wanted only to make love. His fame spread.

The state Assembly, able to agree on something for a change, named him "Father of the Year."

Fan clubs sprang up from San Francisco to Atlanta. A Dayton, Ohio, high school renamed its teams the "Frasier Lions."

Life magazine called him "Simba the Sex Symbol."

Kobrin wrote a film script about a conspiracy to steal Frasier's secret of lifelong virility. The sex story was rated PG. Attendance at the park increased 20%.

Of course, seeing Frasier in the flesh wasn't always exciting.

On one visit, Times columnist John Hall found Frasier "asleep on his back, his paws dangling in the sky. . . ."

"A ranger in a Jeep tossed meat hunks. Frasier's eyes popped open. He yawned and struggled to his feet. . . . His favorite wives of the moment, walked on each side, holding him up. . . .

"He leaned over for the meat and missed, his tongue lolling in the dirt six inches off target. He didn't care. He went back to sleep."

What was Frasier's secret? "He was always seduced," Kobrin said. "He was never the seducer."

Vets theorized that the animal's endurance might have been due in part to his time in the circus, where he didn't face the stress of fighting other males.

And Terry Wolf, wildlife director of the sole surviving Lion Country Safari -- in Loxahatchee, Fla. -- pointed out that lions can be tireless when it comes to sex.

"Years ago, we got an old lion named Leo who had been chained to a tree by some drug dealer," Wolf said. "He looked almost as rickety as Frasier, but it didn't bother the girls. He fathered 35 or 40 cubs."

Death's embrace was one that even Frasier could not evade, however. He died of pneumonia July 13, 1972.

"I feel he loved himself to death," one veterinarian said.

Frasier was buried on Lion Country grounds under a 6-foot-tall wooden cross and given the funeral rites of the Scottish clan Fraser, which had adopted him as a mascot.

Members of the clan, dressed in kilts, dropped fistfuls of dirt on Frasier's casket while bagpipes played.

"He will be missed," The Times eulogized, "by Nadula, Stompy, Lefty, Zona, Sally and Linda -- and their 35 cubs." Were all the offspring truly his? We'll never know for sure. After all, there was no DNA testing back then.

And he was missed by Lion Country, which closed in 1984. Wild Rivers Waterpark and Verizon Wireless Amphitheater now occupy part of the property, which is owned by the Irvine Co.

The 1973 movie "Frasier the Sensuous Lion" flopped, even though the title star was a look-alike whose tongue also drooped.

Authenticity was lacking in some other areas -- the filmic Frasier could speak to humans, for instance. Reviewers generally agreed that the real Frasier would have slept through the movie.

Wolf, of the Florida Lion Country Safari, said he receives "a couple of e-mails a year from people wondering if we have Frasier."

The cross at Frasier's grave site, which is west of the water park, perished in a long-ago fire.

That news would have pleased one unnamed minister in San Diego.

In 1972, he threatened to picket the park if the cross wasn't removed because, as The Times put it, "Frasier belonged to a sect that ate Christians."

The minister never did show up.

Perhaps he was reluctant to risk the wrath of Nadula, Stompy, Lefty, Zona, Sally and Linda.

steveharvey9@gmail.com

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