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Animal Handler For Siegfried And Roy Suggests Duo Lied About 2003 Tiger Attack To Cover Mistakes

“It’s been 15 years, but I live it every day and every night,” said Chris Lawrence, one of the handlers who was on set the day a 400-pound tiger attacked Roy Horn, of Siegfried and Roy, during a performance.

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt
Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn posing with a white tiger

More than 15 years after magician Roy Horn was attacked on stage by one of his beloved tigers, a former employee has come forward with allegations that the attack may have been the result of errors that Horn made on stage, and not an untimely stroke, as the duo have claimed.

The unexpected mauling during a 2003 Las Vegas performance left Roy Horn partially paralyzed and put a halt to Horn and his partner Siegfried Fischbacher's careers as Siegfried and Roy, a dynamic stage duo known for their acts involving white Bengal tigers.

In the years following the attack, the duo has maintained that Horn suffered a stroke while on stage and Mantacore, a male tiger weighing in at 400 pounds and measuring 7 feet long, sprung at him in an effort to help. But Chris Lawrence, an animal trainer who worked on the show for more than a decade and who helped save Horn’s life that day, alleged this week that the official story is a cover-up created to mask the mistakes that Horn made leading up to the attack and to protect the reputations of all involved.

Lawrence, 45, told The Hollywood Reporter that Horn had not been spending as much time with the animals in the years before the attack, causing less of a bond between himself and the dangerous creatures with which he would perform.

“Many of the handlers thought that Roy was treating the cats more like props than he was respecting them for who they were,” he said. “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 recalled that, the night of the attack, something seemed off from the very beginning of Mantacore’s appearance in the show. First, the animal allegedly wandered away from his mark during an act where the tiger "danced" with Horn, which was strange for Mantacore, who was usually “automatic,” Lawrence said.

He went on to claim that he was hesitant to step in at that point, as he and the other handlers were routinely reprimanded for stepping in on stage and breaking the illusion that the care and training of the wild cats was a two-man operation run by Siegfried and Roy. Instead, he watched as Horn allegedly also did something uncommon — instead of guiding Mantacore in a circle, which was what was usually done in the act, he “used his arm to steer him right back into his body,” Lawrence said.

“Mantacore’s face was right in [Horn’s] midsection. By Roy not following the correct procedure, it fed into confusion and rebellion,” he continued.

Mantacore then bit Horn’s sleeve. Horn was able to get the animal to let go by tapping him on the nose with his microphone, but that would prove to be only the beginning. Lawrence claimed he tried to redirect Mantacore's attention by offering him treats and then grabbing his leash, but he was unable to calm or restrain him, and Mantacore knocked both men down, he recalled.

“I vividly remember thinking, ‘Here he comes,’ and I experienced all of the things that you hear about prior to your death,” Lawrence said.

However, Mantacore went straight for Horn, barreling onto his upper body and biting him on the neck. Lawrence recalled trying to pull the animal back by his neck but he was unable to, and Mantacore walked off stage carrying Horn along in its jaws, until Lawrence and another handler, this one his supervisor, were able to apprehend him.  

Horn was rushed to the hospital and the traumatic event, which unfolded in front of a crowd of 1,500, led to the end of Siegfried and Roy’s long-running Vegas show. Mantacore punctured Horn’s arteries during the attack and the resulting trauma to his brain left Horn partially paralyzed, unable to use his left arm nor much of his left leg, PEOPLE reports.

After a two-year investigation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture closed the case in 2005 without having landed on any definitive conclusion as to what led to the attack, CBS News reports. Horn maintained during a 2003 interview, however, that Mantacore did not attack him, but was trying to help him after he had a stroke on stage. (Lawrence described this version of events as “romanticized” when speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, and contends that the attack caused the stroke.)

“[Mantacore] looked at me with his big blue eyes and was confused, and so he picked me up by the neck. He brought me to the side so he could attend to me,” Horn told the Las Vegas Weekly.

“But we need to rectify — he never attacked me. If a tiger attacks you, you are finished,” he said.

He still called Mantacore his “brother” then, according to the outlet. (Mantacore died in 2014, according to The Hollywood Reporter.)

Horn and Fischbacher, who are reportedly working on a biopic about their lives, have not issued a response to Lawrence’s claims and did not respond to The Hollywood Reporter’s request for comment.

Lawrence told the outlet that the incident had a lasting effect on him. He ultimately left behind his career as an animal handler and struggled with alcoholism and suicidal thoughts before he was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s been 15 years, but I live it every day and every night. It’ll never leave me,” he said.

Lawrence, who told the outlet that he decided to come forward to help other trauma victims, said that he felt guilty about the attack for one specific reason — he encouraged Horn to take Mantacore out on stage that day. Horn was considering bringing out a new tiger cub, but Lawrence convinced him that performing the trick with Mantacore would be more impressive to Horn’s friends, who were in the audience for the show, which took place on Horn’s 59th birthday, he recalled.

“This moment haunts me to my core and plagues me with overwhelming guilt,” he said. “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.”

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