Chris Lawrence, a former tiger handler who worked for the famed Las Vegas magicians Siegfried and Roy, is speaking out about the infamous October 3, 2003 tiger attack at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas that almost killed Roy Horn. The incident involved a seven-year-old white tiger named Mantecore who unexpectedly bit Horn on the arm and neck and then started to drag him offstage in front of a horrified audience of 1,500 people. Horn sustained heavy blood loss from a severed artery along with injuries that resulted in permanent partial paralysis to his left side.
Siegfried and Roy have always maintained that Horn had a stroke during the performance and that a confused Mantecore tried to be a hero and grabbed the entertainer as he tried to save him. Horn and his partner Siegfried Fischbacher defended Mantecore’s behavior and insisted that the 400-pound animal’s bite reduced pressure on Horn’s brain that had resulted from the stroke. In a 2004 interview, Fischbacher told journalist Maria Shriver “Roy tumbled, and Mantecore right away…he realized and I realized that he was in trouble.” “He will do whatever a cat will do when (s)he has a litter, he picked me up by the neck…he took care of me,” Horn said.
But Lawrence, who worked with the duo and their big cats for 11 years, says the stroke story was fabricated to save the image of Siegfried and Roy and their $45 million-dollar-a-year brand. The story also perpetuated the idea that Horn had a special bond with the cats. “I show the tiger trust and not be afraid so we will become brothers,” Roy Horn says on the Siegfried and Roy website. Lawrence contends that a series of missteps during the performance paired with Siegfried and Roy’s diminished relationship with the tigers resulted in the accident which ended the famed performers’ careers.
Here’s what you need to know about Chris Lawrence:
1. There Were Multiple Theories as to Why Mantecore Attacked
Investigators with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) reviewed a number of theories as to why Mantecore suddenly turned on Horn. One theory was that a female spectator sitting near the stage attempted to reach out and touch Mantecore however forensic investigators determined she was sitting more than six feet away. “The female could not have physically touched “Montecore (sic).”
Another assertion was the Mantecore was distracted by the scent of someone or something sitting in the audience and that one of the individuals may have released a scent to change the tiger’s behavior. Staff members with the show claimed the tiger had performed in the “Rapport Act” approximately 2,000 times over a seven-year period without incident yet sneezed and then “alerted” to tables B1 and B3 during that particular performance. An undisclosed staffer stated that “if a ‘scent’ was present such as some type of pheromones, menstrual blood, new perfume or concentrated male or female tiger urine this could cause a negative reaction from Montecore (sic).”
Believing the incident might be linked to terrorism, LVMPD detectives assigned to Homeland Security reviewed a video of the attack, interviewed the 14 guests sitting at the tables in question, and determined that no suspicious odors were detected nor did Mantecore “alert” to anything. One guest saw a “fine mist” in the air and another thought Mantecore may have sprayed his own urine prior to the attack. Siegfried was wearing a sensitive microphone onstage and at no time did detectives hear Mantecore sneeze but did see the tiger shake his head. After conducting extensive interviews, investigators concluded that “none of the patrons interviewed could be identified as belonging to any extremist or terrorist type groups.”
2. Lawrence Claims Mantecore’s Behavior Was “Off” the Whole Evening
According to Lawrence, Mantecore had been acting strangely during that performance, behaviors he attributes to Horn not spending enough time with the feline performers. “Many of the handlers thought that Roy was treating the cats more like props than he was respecting them for who they were,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
During a show he’d performed in thousands of times, Mantecore suddenly missed his mark on stage. One stagehand whose name has been redacted in USDA documents told investigators that he saw”something different about the way (Mantecore) looked.”
The situation got out of control when Horn attempted to redirect the wayward tiger back to his mark. “The point I realized that things were kind of going sideways was when Roy turned Mantecore around, and he ended up with his face in Roy’s midsection,” Lawrence told NBC reporter Joe Fryer. One witness told investigators in a written statement that “Mr. Roy started to hit the tiger on the nose (with the) mic.” That’s when the tiger knocked Mr. Roy down on his back.”
3. Lawrence’s Account Aligns More Closely With the Investigation
Investigators interviewed several show attendees who heard Mantecore growling as he first came onstage. USDA investigator David Neal reviewed a video of the performance and wrote in his report that Horn “popped” Mantecore on the head with his microphone after he began to growl. “Roy appeared to be trying to force (the) cat down,” Neal wrote. (The) cat appeared to put front legs around Roy’s legs and pull him down to (the) stage floor,” he added.
Documents from the a two-year investigation offer multiple interviews with witnesses whose testimony lines up with Lawrence’s account of the incident. Wrapping up in 2005, investigators were never able to conclusively determine the cause for the attack.
4. Lawrence Suffers From PTSD
Chris Lawrence revealed that he was traumatized after witnessing the mauling and attempting to rescue Siegfried. When Lawrence saw Horn being mauled, he, other handlers and stagehands rushed over and tried to pry Horn away from Mantecore mouth. As he attempted to pull Mantecore off Horn, Lawrence fell and feared he would also be attacked.”I remember vividly thinking ‘Here he comes.’ There was no telling if (Mantecore) wasn’t coming for me,” Lawrence said.
After a 15-year battle with PTSD, Chris Lawrence – who was onstage when a tiger attacked Roy Horn in 2003 – is finally ready to discuss the human error that triggered the incident and the story he believes was concocted to protect the illusionists https://t.co/W0vSE5elFw pic.twitter.com/yvqsEwsqEe
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) March 28, 2019
Since then, Lawrence has struggled with alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts. Once he sought help, doctors diagnosed him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “Something in him also died that night,” Lawrence’s wife Alicia revealed. And while Lawrence concedes that Horn has been left with physical wounds “…Roy’s not the only one who suffers from that night.”
Lawrence also feels guilty since he encouraged Horn to use Mantecore in the show instead of a different tiger. “This moment haunts me to my core and plagues me with overwhelming guilt,” he said. “It’s been 15 years, but I live it every day and every night. It’ll never leave me.”
5. Lawrence Has Concerns About a Proposed Biopic
A planned biopic about Siegfried and Roy is one of reasons Lawrence has decided open up about the terrifying attack. His primary concern is that the movie will perpetuate the myth of Horn’s stroke and Mantecorte’s rescue.
Siegfried and Roy will serve as the executive producers, screenwriter Jan Berger is onboard to write the script, and German film director Philipp Stolzl has signed on to direct the film. “Being able to tell the story of Siegfried and Roy, covering all their successes, desires and dreams, is a wonderful gift that comes with a special set of challenges for me as a director,” Stolzl said.