Siegfried and Roy have broken their silence over a trainer’s claims they were responsible for the 2003 tiger attack that nearly killed Roy – and ended the legendary illusionists’ Las Vegas show.
‘It was an accident. Because if a tiger attacks you, it takes two seconds to take you over,’ Siegfried Fischbacher, 80, said in an interview with Good Morning America.
The masters of magic performed at the Mirage Resort and Casino from 1990 until Roy Horn suffered the career-ending injury onstage on October 3, 2003 – his 59th birthday. The duo’s show was regarded as the most visited performance on the strip, grossing $45million a year.
Earlier this year, former handler, Chris Lawrence, alleged Roy hadn’t followed the proper procedure onstage, and that his ‘diminished’ relationship with Mantacore, a Siberian white tiger, contributed to the attack.
Lawrence also claimed Roy had been ‘treating the cats like props’ instead of ‘respecting them for who they were’.
But Siegfried hit back at that claim, saying the attack occurred while Roy was having a stroke onstage and the tiger was trying to ‘help’.
‘Mantacore was waiting to get his jump up on Roy’s shoulders and get his treat,’ Siegfried explained, adding that Roy said ‘no, no, no, no,’ to Mantacore.
Siegfried said Mantacore jumped on Roy, 74, who then looked around and appeared to not understand what was going on. He said that’s when Mantacore grabbed Roy by the neck and dragged him offstage.
In March, Lawrence, who was working on the night that Roy was attacked, told The Hollywood Reporter: ‘Many of the handlers thought that Roy was treating the cats more like props than he was respecting them for who they were.’
Lawrence noted that Roy was feeding and walking the big cats far less frequently over the years.
‘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 Mantacore was a key factor in the attack,’ Lawrence said.
But Siegfried and Roy have maintained that the 7-foot male tiger, who weighed 400lbs, was trying to protect Roy after he suffered a stroke during his birthday show, performed in front of A-listers and friend.
Siegfried told GMA that he had ‘no idea’ why Lawrence would make such accusations, adding that the former handler ‘had problems with his life’.
‘I just know his life was full of problems,’ Siegfried added.
[email protected] NEWS EXCLUSIVE: Siegfried and Roy are breaking their silence to address allegations about the 2003 tiger attack. @DebRobertsABC sat down with them. https://t.co/W1vUNMab63 pic.twitter.com/GVOmh1oKie
Roy, who was left with partial paralysis on the left side of his body, has limited speech, and is confined to a wheelchair most of the time, told GMA that he has ‘no’ reluctance around tigers even after the attack, adding that he is ‘very’ happy.
Earlier this year, a number of eyewitness reports obtained by DailyMail.com also contradicted a large portion of Lawrence’s version of events, specifically where he was at the time of the attack.
The most concise account of what transpired that evening may have come from the spotlight operator who told investigators: ‘It appeared that his only intention was to kill Roy.’
Lawrence said that as soon as Mantacore entered the stage on October 3, 2003, it was clear that things were not right with the tiger.
Both Lawrence and almost every eyewitness who worked on the show are in agreement that Mantacore wandered off his mark at the very top of the segment, which was called The Rapport.
‘Mantacore was automatic during The Rapport,’ explained Lawrence. ‘This was uncharted waters.’
Then, Roy decided to maneuver the tiger into position using a move that had not been rehearsed with the highly-trained tiger.
‘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,’ said Lawrence.
‘Mantacore’s face was right in [Horn’s] midsection. By Roy not following the correct procedure, it fed into confusion and rebellion.’
Then, Roy asked the tiger if he wanted to say hello to the audience, at which point Mantacore snarled and bit at Roy’s sleeve.
Roy chided the tiger and gently hit it on the nose with his microphone a few times.
Lawrence still did not get on stage however, saying that his bosses discouraged handlers from appearing during the act because it would kill the illusion.
‘I had been yelled at by Siegfried on a few occasions. His favorite phrase was, “Are you trying to ruin me?” He would later apologize and explain that, because he and Roy were on the marquee, they couldn’t make mistakes onstage,’ said Lawrence.
Roy in particular did not take well to handlers showing up to offer assistance, according to Lawrence.
‘They went to a great length to hide the fact that we actually existed to preserve the perception that Roy “trained” all of the animals himself,’ explained Lawrence.
What happened at this point is still unclear, but most of the eyewitness reports viewed by DailyMail.com claim that Roy fell, kicked at the tiger and then was mauled by the animal.
Mantacore ripped open Horn’s neck and then walked off stage, with his victim still in his mouth.
Those eyewitnesses all say that once backstage, Mantacore eventually released Roy after a handler pried open his mouth, with some stating an extinguisher was used to cause this to happen and others claiming that it was definitely not used out of fear it would scare the tiger and lead to worse injury.
Lawrence’s location and actions at the near-fatal moment are not backed up by any of the over 20 eyewitness accounts seen by DailyMail.com and included in the 2004 report filed by the USDA.
He said that he began to walk at an even pace to the stage when he saw how Mantacore was looking at Roy, then crouched behind the tiger and began patting his hindquarters.
At the same time, Lawrence also claims that he emptied his pocket of some cube steak.
This could have possibly been done in a way that hid Lawrence from the audience, but what happened next would have made it hard to miss the fact that a handler was on stage.
Lawrence said that he grabbed Mantacore’s leash and at that very moment, the tiger pounced on Roy.
The sudden jolt caused Lawrence to buck off the tiger’s back and onto the stage he said, something that it not noted in any eyewitness report.
‘I vividly remember thinking, “Here he comes,” and I experienced all of the things that you hear about prior to your death,’ said Lawrence.
‘It was very deceiving because it could’ve only lasted a few seconds but it seemed like an eternity. I remember experiencing a crippling guilt over the thought that I was going to be leaving my children without a father and cause them unimaginable pain that they were too young to understand.’
The eyewitness reports do state that as the mauling began handlers began to run onto the stage and then followed Mantacore, and securing the release of Roy.
A number of those reports describe how this happened in a manner very similar to what Lawrence said in his interviews, having also appeared on Today one day after his THR feature.
Lawrence straddled the lion while at the same time another handler hooked into the animal’s mouth, at which point Roy was dropped and dragged away from the animal.
Mantacore then headed off to his cage for his dinner, said Lawrence.
Siegfried informed the audience 15 minutes after the attack that the show that evening was cancelled, and the two men would never again perform their act at The Mirage.
Roy suffered extensive injuries in the attack, is confined to a wheelchair most of the time after suffered partial paralysis on the left side of his body.
He also insisted that no harm come of Mantacore, and began telling reporters that he had suffered a stroke on stage and that the tiger was acting as his protector.
Exchanges prior to this between the pair’s legal team and investigators from the USDA also show a growing frustration with the probe into what happened on that night of the attack.
The more investigators asked for video from that evening, the more angry lawyers seem to get about the requests.
This all culminated with the USDA issuing a subpoena duces tecum, forcing the lawyers to provide them with material necessary to their investigation.
The lawyers called the move ‘ill-advised,’ and in the end the investigation was not able to come to any conclusion as to what caused the attack.
That investigation did not contain Lawrence’s version of events however, which he explained by saying: ‘Siegfried & Roy’s attorneys told us not to talk to any of them, or anyone for that matter, and that they would be releasing a joint statement to the USDA on our behalf.’
That does seem to be true, with the USDA report revealing that just a single member of the pair’s staff spoke to investigators, while every other person who submitted a written interview was a Mirage employee.