Roy Horn Dead: Look Back on 2003 Tiger Attack That Nearly Ended Siegfried and Roy Magician's Life

Roy Horn, one half of the Las Vegas magic act Siegfried and Roy, died Friday night at the age of 75. Horn's death came a little more than a week after he tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Horn almost died before, back in 2003 when he barely survived a tiger attack on stage. The attack, which happened during his 57th birthday celebration, marked an abrupt end to a Las Vegas institution.

The attack happened on Oct. 3, 2003, during a performance at the Mirage Hotel and Casino. Mantacore, a 400-pound, 7-foot-long white tiger, bit Horn in his neck and held him until animal trainer Chris Lawrence and other trainers jumped into action. They had to spray the tiger with CO2 canisters just to get him to let go of Horn.

Horn and Siegfried Fischbacher's official story was that Horn suffered a stroke on stage and the tiger tried to drag him to safety. Mirage owner Steve Wynn also said the tiger was reacting to the hairdo of a woman in the front row. In an interview with PEOPLE a year after the attack, Horn said Mantacore "saved my life," adding, "He instinctively saw that I needed help, and he helped me."

Horn's spine was severed and he suffered massive blood loss in the attack, which permanently affected the use of his legs and arms, as well as his speech. Fischbacher then acted as Horn's caretaker, and he was still emotional when talking about the seeing Horn hospitalized in a 2019 interview with ABC News. Due to the injuries, Horn could no longer perform and their act was shut down. For years later though, the duo continued meeting fans at the Mirage, where their animals remained in the hotel's Secret Garden complex.

In 2019, interest in the attack was revived when Lawrence spoke out for the first time in a lengthy interview with The Hollywood Reporter. He disputed Siegfried and Roy's official story, saying there were several human errors that led to the incident. Lawrence alleged that the two were not spending enough time between shows to build bonds with the tigers. Lawrence said he was diagnosed with PTSD from the incident and spoke out after hearing about plans for a Siegfried and Roy biopic.

"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," Lawrence explained. "Mantacore's face was right in (Horn's) midsection. By Roy not following the correct procedure, it fed into confusion and rebellion."

Horn put the microphone to Mantacore's mouth and asked if he wanted to say hello to the audience. When the cat bit Horn's sleeve, Lawrence tried to get Mantacore aware with raw meat, but Mantacore knocked the men down and bit Horn, dragging him from the stage.

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As USA Today notes, the USDA reported Horn suffered a crushed windpipe and damage to an artery that carries oxygen to his brain. Lawrence claimed the investigators never received his statement on the attack.

During their 2019 ABC News interview, Fischbacher said he was did not know why Lawrence was speaking out at the time, adding, "He had problems with his life anyway." Siegfried and Roy had one more show in 2009, and retired from the entertainment business for good in 2010. "Roy is bigger than life," Fischbacher told Reader's Digest when asked if he would ever consider performing with another partner. "He always explained to me, 'Life is full of miracles.'"