Siegfried and Roy: The Night of the Tiger Attack

What really happened when a tiger attacked Roy.

By Alanna Nash from Reader's Digest | April 2004

Late in October, Roy Horn was strong enough to be airlifted to the UCLA Medical Center, where he continued to make progress. And all the while, Siegfried stayed by his side. The first time he put a pen in Roy’s palm, Fischbacher touchingly recounted that his friend wrote, “Siegfried, it is nice to hold your hand.”

According to the duo’s manager, Bernie Yuman, Roy was taken off the ventilator in mid-November. His cognitive skills were “intact, perfect,” Yuman said. The entertainer was writing prolific notes, giving orders in them, even asking for a Madonna CD.

In the months since, the duo’s camp has largely been silent, as has the show’s producer, Kenneth Feld, owner of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Feld has troubles other than Roy’s injuries: Animal rights groups have loudly insisted that show tigers should be retired. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture did open an investigation into a possible violation of the Animal Welfare Act, since regulations call for sufficient distance between animals and the viewing public in live-animal shows. With the stakes so high, the Mirage is refusing to release a tape of the near-fatal performance. And the pair’s publicity machine is now hyping “The Father of the Pride,” a computer-animated television sitcom set for next fall about the men and their gorgeous white tigers. Roy is said to be making plans for it.

While Siegfried and Roy’s spokesmen can’t promise that the live show will come back, if anyone can make a full recovery from such a horrendous blow, says Bob Macy, it is Roy. He is home now, although he reportedly suffered an infection in January requiring another hospitalization.

And it may not be his last. Because of the loss of blood and oxygen to the brain, physicians say that Roy could have experienced some irreversible paralysis and brain damage, and may always need assistance even with basic activities, including walking. Often in cases like Roy Horn’s, a patient also exhibits residual effects of brain injury such as speech difficulties, memory problems, emotional instability, and impaired critical thinking skills.

“My impression is that he had a significant injury that may prevent any type of return to their act,” says Catherine Cooper, MD, an anesthesiologist in Richmond, Va., who has studied stroke and brain injury cases. “His motor function is unlikely to improve substantially, and although his mental function is already better than initially feared, his neurological recovery will be a slow process, measured in very small accomplishments.”

But they are evident. By late January, his tracheal tube was out, allowing him to talk and ask for two of his favorite foods, pistachio ice cream and Wiener schnitzel. His mobility, too, had improved. Siegfried reported that Roy was standing up, and Yuman hinted he could be walking soon.

Still, those bright signs might not be enough to ensure Roy’s return to the stage, and he may finally be ready to take that retirement he spoke of at his birthday party. If so, he will likely find some way to contribute, his friends say, if only at the “Secret Garden,” the lush animal habitat behind the Mirage where Montecore now paces and fixes his visitors with icy blue eyes.

As of February there were no plans to rename the Siegfried & Roy Theatre, but the Mirage was in negotiations to bring in another show. Meanwhile the illusionists’ faces still grace the Mirage marquee, giving hope that the two will return someday.

Siegfried says he would never take another partner. There’s no need, he says; Roy will be back. “Roy is bigger than life. He always explained to me, ‘Life is full of miracles.’ “

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