During the early hours of Roy Horn’s 59th birthday, on Oct. 3, 2003, the performer celebrated with a ritzy, post-show bash at the Mirage in Las Vegas. 500 guests dined, danced, and marveled at an ice sculpture of a white roaring tiger perched on its haunches. The soul-patched magician, then a toast of Sin City — along with his personal and professional partner, Siegfried Fischbacher — blew out candles on a cake fittingly adorned with tiny models of big cats.
He reenergized and announced to the crowd: “I’m celebrating and celebrating and celebrating … ”
Some eight hours later, onstage in the casino’s custom-built Siegfried & Roy Theater, Horn was viciously attacked by one of his beloved white tigers, a 400-pound Bengal called Mantecore. The moniker is a combination of Latin and Persian. “man eater” — “a bizarre name,”Francisco Rodriguez, director at the Guadalajara Zoo from which Horn and Fischbacher bought the cat, admitted Francisco Rodriguez
A new podcast looks at the magic that was Siegfriend & Roy and Las Vegas magic.NY Post photo composite
Medical magic saved the life of Roy Horn, but Siegfried & Roy’s show at the Mirage — which grossed a reported $45 million per year — shut down permanently as allegations circulated that the tiger attack may not have been random.
“There were theories that it was not an accident and that somebody triggered the tiger,”The Post was informed by Steven Leckart. He’s the executive producer and host of the Apple TV+ podcast, “Wild Things: Siegfried & Roy,”The film premieres January 12th and zeroes in on the tragic night. “You wonder why somebody would try to turn a tiger against a magician.”
There are many possibilities in the podcast, including revenge by animal activists, someone trying to financially cripple Las Vegas, or homophobia.
It was suggested that Horn might have been bothered because of an unusual smell on the performer.
“It was viewed as a potential hate crime,”Leckart stated. “[Authorities] have to explore lots of possibilities, no matter how far-fetched. Motives that were explored seemed bananas — and they are.”
The Mirage received an e-mail that read: “If there is audio & video of the tiger attack it should be analyzed for far-UV and or high ultra-sonics, as well as other triggers that might be the work of a terrorist aiming at a high profile GAY target.”
Like other tips, this tip was also included in a government document.
Said Leckart: “It was the wildest case investigators ever worked on.”
Las Vegas Metro Police Department arrived at the scene almost immediately after the mauling. They began to examine the evidence.
“They viewed it as an actual crime. There were crime scene investigators, like on the ‘CSI’ TV shows,”Leckart. “The USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] had a person going undercover and the Homeland Security Division got called in. Investigators spent a lot of time on it.”
Horn and Siegfried Fischbacher (left), once had a panther who destroyed their water bed.
Michael Game, who was the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s Sergeant of Counter Terrorism, shares his directive in this podcast: “Did someone in the audience do something to cause the animal to react the way it did and can we prove it? That was the bottom line, plain and simple. That was how we approached the investigation.”
Nearly two months were devoted to performing background checks on people who attended or worked on the show — and, reportedly, the tiger.
Steve Wynn, Mirage owner, even joined the fray of conspiracy theories.
Wynn pointed out a strange woman from the audience — tall and with a skyscraping beehive hairdo — and wondered if her height might have distracted the tiger.
Detectives who were working on the investigation went one step further and took the tall lady’s lead.
“The theory was that this woman smuggled a scent in her hairdo. After all, who will check a woman’s hair for a small spray bottle?”Leckart stated. “The thinking was that there was a pheromone or exotic animal urine that was used to distract the tiger.”
After all, according to the Hollywood Reporter, during a previous backstage visit from Demi Moore, Mantecore’s brother Jahan got “extremely excited” by the scent of the actress’s perfume.
The Post was told by an insider that Horn could have been the source of the distracting smell.
“The theory I heard is that maybe there was something on Roy’s breath that was unusual. Maybe he had eaten something unusual. Maybe there was something lingering from his birthday party the night before — it could have been alcohol,”According to the source. “Animals are conditioned to do things under certain circumstances. When the circumstances change, they do things differently. The animal may have sensed something wrong and wanted to take Roy to his safe spot, which would have been his cage.”
The show is said have transformed the Las Vegas strip.picture collaboration
Horn offered the most benign of what-ifs. Horn said that the performer was suffering from high blood pressure. He suggested that he might have suffered a medical accident.
“I got a stroke. I fall down. I see his blue eyes stare up at me,”Horn spoke “Entertainment Tonight,” and referring to Mantecore — who remained under the care of Fischbacher and Horn after the attack — as his blood brother. “He did what every cat would do. He picked me up by the neck and carried me to the side. He relieved the blood pressure or I would be brain dead. I would be a vegetable.”
Perhaps. But Jonathan Kraft, a tiger expert with the Arizona animal sanctuary Keepers of the Wild, isn’t having. “The cat was going for the jugular,”In 2003, he made the following statement to The Post: “That was a typical killing bite.”
Some speculate that Horn is the only one to blame. According to Chris Lawrence, who served as animal handler for the Siegfried & Roy show, Horn had become increasingly distant from the animals that he once adored.
“Many of the handlers thought that Roy was treating the animals more like props than he was respecting them for who they were,”Lawrence told the Hollywood Reporter. “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 Mantecore was a key factor in the attack.” Siegfried & Roy disputed this claim.
According to one source, the big cats are: “They are not tamed animals.”Getty Images
“I remember Roy [once] giving me a reminder that he and Siegfried work with wild animals conditioned to be in a given environment at a given moment,”The Post was told by Alan Feldman, ex-vice president of communications at Mirage. “They are not tamed animals.”
Mantecore, who had missed his mark on the stage the night before, walked toward the front row, becoming confused when Horn pulled him back. The tiger grabbed Horn’s arm in his mouth. Horn swatted his microphone on the tiger’s head, executing a secondary command to obey: “Release.”
The cat did as told, then placed a paw on Horn’s foot. The man fell backwards and the tiger loomed above him. Mantecore then pounced.
Teeth ripped into Horn’s neck. He was unable breathe and gushing blood after being dragged 30ft off the stage. Mantecore was then sprayed by stagehands with a fire extinguisher. They beat him with the fire extinguisher. That worked.
Penélope Cruz and Tom Cruise with Fischbacher and Horn.Jeff Klein/ImageDirect
Mantecore let go, but by then he had torn his master’s jugular vein, narrowly missing the carotid artery. Horn was rushed to University Medical Center in 4.7 miles from Mirage. The carnage was captured on videotape by a few casino executives.
Though the 2003 incident may have been the most extreme example of Fischbacher and Horn’s wild animals reverting to form, it is not the only one.
In 1970, when the duo had a contract to perform at Puerto Rico’s Americana Hotel, a black panther staying in the bedroom tore up the waterbed and caused a flood. Years later, while Horn and Fischbacher were enjoying the ocean while on vacation to Puerto Rico, Fischbacher shared what is described as “The Fishbacher Podcast”. “scars and stuff up his arms and on his hands.”
Horn was also pinned down by a Tiger and managed to escape by biting the nose of the animal. “She jumped up and never tried anything else,”He speaks in a recording that is part the podcast.
Another time, in the 1990s the pair took a short hiatus from performing. Fischbacher was seen walking around in a cast at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles. Later, he spoke out about the injury to Diane Sawyer during an interview. “chunk of your arm taken off by a lion [and requiring] 33 stitches.”
They lived together with their animals on a luxurious Las Vegas estate called Little Bavaria.Corbis
Horn met his partner-to be in 1957 on a German cruiseship. Fischbacher was performing magic. Horn was a cabin boy with wild streak. He had smuggled Chico from a zoo through family connections and kept it in his cabin. He convinced Fischbacher that he would let him join the magic show and include Chico.
The duo’s big break came in Monte Carlo, when they were invited to perform at a Red Cross gala. Chico leapt into the audience. “We got a standing ovation,”Larry King was later informed. Miraculously, nobody was hurt and the local paper described them as “The New Kings of Magic.”
Vegas residencies followed soon, first at mobbed up joints like the Tropicana or Stardust, then at Frontier and finally at Mirage.
“They were part of flicking the switch from old Vegas to new,”The Post heard from Anthony Curtis who is the publisher of Las Vegas Advisor. “They were the first $100 ticket in town and changed the way casinos operated — making money in areas other than gambling. They broke the ceiling, but Roy being mauled was the show’s death knell. They couldn’t do anything beyond that.”
Siegfried & Roy were said to be the first $100 ticket in Las Vegas.Getty Images
Instead, the partners holed up elegantly, on an elaborate Vegas estate known as Little Bavaria — “a work of art and very ornate,”Feldman spoke of the 100-acre estate that included an aqua park and multiple mansions. There were occasional public appearances, TV interviews and a final, muted 2009 performance that had Horn limping on stage with Fischbacher’s support. They performed a single illusion, which included Mantecore.
In 2014, the tiger died. Roy Horn died in 2020 from complications related to Covid-19. Siegfried Fischbacher, a victim of pancreatic carcinoma, died in January 2021.
Leckart reflected on the accomplishments of Horn and Fischbacher. “Before them, there was nothing like what they were doing. Magicians came to the shows and their jaws hit the floor. You had to be there to really understand just how insane it all was.”
That insanity leaked into expert’s views of the incident that upended the Siegfried & Roy show.
“Everybody that we interviewed who dealt with tigers and exotic animals understands the risk. None of them were surprised by what happened,”Leckart. “But, because of Siegfried & Roy’s history and how good Roy was with the animals, they were shocked.”
He added that the duo did a great job with their big cats. “was not an illusion.”