Pet Peeves and Paranoia (from Mil Mania) – Roy Horn

To Err is Human — To Forgive Feline — Divine

While I normally fill this column with experiences from my own menagerie, this month I’ve learned of a (something akin to “pet”) situation that would be so truly “paranoia”-prompting in the “normal” person that I feel I have no choice but to share the admiration it inspired through a love for animals — and I speculate humanity as well — so great it indeed “casteth out” fear…even when tested beyond what most of us could ever imagine.

Surely almost everyone reading this heard at least a small bit on the news back in 2003, when a tiger used in a lavish Las Vegas magic show critically injured Roy Horn, the animal-handler half of the show’s stars, Siegfried and Roy.  In fact, I suspect I’m probably among the last people on Earth to have remained utterly ignorant of this team’s act and accomplishments prior to that event, until so very recently, when a brief article on the internet succeeded in sufficiently intriguing me to watch the television special it promoted.  What I found most fascinating in this written snippet was the assertion by the tiger’s “victim” that he never for a moment believed the animal intended harm.  Rather, it’s his and his partner’s contention that Roy suffered a small stroke while performing, which the tiger somehow sensed, and instinctively reacted to by attempting to pull Roy offstage to safety (grasping him by the neck as a mother of this species would carry her cub).  Obviously, the physical differences between human and tiger meant this resulted in devastating injury to Roy, no matter the motivation.  What was most fascinating about the article, however, was the report that for the return-to-stage farewell performance it covered, the animal used in Siegfried and Roy’s final illusion was none other than Montecore, this very same white tiger who had inflicted the devastating injury that ended their career…and very nearly just plain “ended” Roy.  Talk about putting one’s money — or rather, life itself, where his mouth is.  This was a story so “insane” I wouldn’t be living up to my own verbal professions if I didn’t learn more about these men so crazy they might just be kin of my kind.

That said, I indeed watched the TV program, which offered a fascinating overview of how these men grew up in Germany, both to wind up employed on the same cruise ship. Siegfried was already beginning to hone his craft as a magician, while Roy, working as a bellhop, saw his act — and offered a suggestion for improving it.  Rather than perform illusions using a docile rabbit, how about trying the same tricks with a cheetah instead?  I can only imagine the questions regarding Roy’s sanity this raised in Siegfried.  As it turned out, however, Roy actually had the means to make this happen — using his own pet cheetah, an animal he had freed from a German zoo.  The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

But, this isn’t a history lesson in just entertainment or entrepreneurship.  It’s a story of friendship, compassion, conservation and devotion. The show Siegfried and Roy went on to develop became the biggest attraction in Las Vegas history — and perhaps one of  the greatest testimonials ever to the philosophy “Do what you love, and success will follow.”    By the same token, in this instance, the success enabled them to further serve their loves — Siegfried’s for magic and Roy’s for animals.  In fact, the latter’s amazing bond with animals was permitted to flourish in ways few could imagine, blossoming into an immense compound that became home to a substantial number of the world’s most exotic and endangered cats, with which Roy spent so much time they seemed to truly count him among their number.  In explanation of footage that showed him romping with tigers in a field and swimming with them in a pool, Roy said he was present for each of their births.  Since his was the first voice they heard and the first face they saw, it logically followed that they should think him one of them.  And, although Roy, of course, fully understood and respected their physical differences, at heart I think it might safely be said, he was one of them, indeed.  So close was Roy’s bond with his animals, in fact, that Siegfried admitted he couldn’t help feeling moments of jealousy, aware the love between Roy and these incredible “beasts” was something he stood outside of, something that belonged to Roy and these beasts alone.

Still, the tragic occurrence that nearly took his life necessarily altered the day to day interspecies intermingling Roy and his great cats shared.  Yet, it might be said, the grace and power they embody — and which it might be argued they related to in Roy, remained in him as well.  Contrary to the dire prognoses of his doctors, Roy not only survived, but surpassed all possible expectations in regaining the ability to walk, and talk, and, although indeed physically altered,  in remaining utterly “himself”.    When asked by the TV interviewer whether the accident had instilled some level of fear for these great creatures he hadn’t known before, he unequivocally answered “No.”  He acknowledged, of course, the physical shortcomings that prevent him from the level of interaction he and his beloved cats once enjoyed, but left no doubt of his undiminished love for them, and faith in how deserving he believes them of his trust.  In many individuals, I can only imagine this assertion would have seemed mere bravado, but in watching Roy and hearing the declaration in his impaired speech, the truth of his statement couldn’t have been more obvious — or more touching.  However, one must consider this is a man who, as the attack was taking place, cried out not “Help me” or some unintelligible utterance of pain, but the clear, almost unbelievable plea, “Don’t hurt the tiger!”

I once read a book by Brennan Manning entitled Ruthless Trust.  If you ask me, he could have begun and ended it by quoting those four words.  If they don’t describe the concept of, indeed, “ruthless trust” in the most vivid detail imaginable, all the books in the world could surely never do so.

They also characterize a man in the most vivid detail possible — and leave me feeling awe and consternation at his selflessness when faced with the most unthinkable circumstances.   It’s been said, “Greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for his friend.”  I think it might be argued equal evidence of such love, when a man’s life is quite possibly being taken from him, that his care and thoughts should center on the one doing the taking.

A few days after seeing this special on Siegfried and Roy, I passed a church with one of those letter boards out front proclaiming the spiritual challenge.  “Forgive the ones who hurt you the most.”   I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the thought that sprang to mind was, “Roy Horn certainly did.”    And, in doing so, I think he challenged all of us to re-think what love really means, and how truly complete the forgiveness it allows.

While expressing belief that his physical progress was still very much ongoing, Roy was asked what was one thing he most hoped to do again someday.  “I want to dance,” he said.  I hope — and seeing how far he’s come have every reason to believe — Roy indeed dances again soon.  In the meantime, I think it’s clear his spirit moves with the utmost grace and beauty.  And, my own heart dances under the power of its inspiration.

P.S.  You can visit www.siegfriedandroy.com to learn more about the duo, their act, bio and more.  Also, you can check out info about the television special I saw at  http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=7005903&page=1.