Close Encounters with Big Cats
You don’t have to be an actress to be mauled by a lion — but it helps! “Mauled” can mean many things, of course, but the people below have one thing in common: they’ve all been attacked by lions or other big cats.
Actress JODIE FOSTER was chomped by a feline co-star while shooting her very first feature, the 1972 Disney movie Napoleon and Samantha. The film featured Foster and TV’s Family Affair star Johnnie Whittaker as two kids who escape into the woods with an aging circus lion. (Non-biting co-stars included Will Geer and Michael Douglas.)Foster wasn’t seriously injured, but the incident left lasting marks: in 1992 People magazine described her as having “sturdy kickboxer’s calves… supporting a trim 5’4” frame (with faint lion-bite scars on stomach and back, suffered at age 8 filming Napoleon And Samantha).”
MELANIE GRIFFITH was clawed in the face by a lion during the filming of Roar (1981), a jungle adventure that also starred her mother Tippi Hedren. At a 2000 news conference in favor of laws regulating wild animal sales, Griffith said she had 50 stitches after the attack and feared she would lose an eye. The wounds were ultimately not disfiguring and Griffith went on to a career as a leading film actress of the 1980s and 1990s.
At the same 2000 news conference with daughter Melanie Griffith, TIPPI HEDREN reported that she too had been mauled by a lion while making Roar. (She’s known better for being worked over by angry crows in Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1963 horror flick The Birds.) An animal activist with a special interest in big cats, Hedren created the Shambala Preserve for wild animals in California.
Magician ROY HORN was nearly killed by a white tiger during an October 2003 performance at The Mirage resort in Las Vegas. The Siegfried and Roy show had been one of Las Vegas’s biggest attractions since 1990, with fans paying $100 a ticket and more to watch the duo perform acts of magical derring-do with their signature white tigers.During a performance on the night of October 3rd, Roy tangled with a 600-pound cat named Montecore, who suddenly grabbed the magician by the throat and dragged him offstage. Horn suffered severe blood loss and later had a stroke; his survival was called “miraculous” by doctors. The attack ended the long run of the Siegfried and Roy act. Horn has spent the years since trying to recover; a 2005 story in The Las Vegas Sun described him “working out at a rehab facility for three hours a day, seven days a week” with the goal of walking again without assistance. The paper quoted him as saying with a laugh, “Yes. I am stubborn. I am German.”
Not being an actress, the explorer and missionary DAVID LIVINGSTONE was mauled by a wild lion in the actual jungle. In 1844 Livingstone went after a cattle-killing lion that had been troubling a local African village. Livingstone found his lion and shot it twice with a shotgun, but the big cat attacked anyway; the lion “shook me as a terrier dog does a rat,” Livingstone later wrote. The lion dropped the explorer to attack a villager but finally fell dead of the gunshot wounds. Livingstone suffered a broken arm but lived to spend another 30 years in Africa.
Another famous British maulee: HAROLD DAVIDSON, the Rector of Stiffkey. In 1932 Davidson was defrocked by the Church of England for consorting with prostitutes. The case was a great public scandal. Afterwards Davidson turned his notoriety into a kind of carnival act, appearing in circus sideshows and becoming increasingly eccentric. In 1937 he was appearing in a cage with two aged carnival lions when one attacked and mauled him severely; Davidson was rescued from the cage but died of his wounds a few days later.
In her 1942 autobiography, West With the Night, aviatrix BERYL MARKHAM describes being mauled by a semi-domesticated lion named Paddy. Markham grew up in Kenya and the lion lived on a nearby estate; Paddy scratched and bit deeply into her leg before being distracted by the estate owner. Markham wrote, “I still have the marks of his teeth and claws but they are very small now and almost forgotten.”
In November of 2002, actress ELISHA CUTHBERT took a detour on the set of her hit TV series 24 to meet a mountain lion which was to appear with her in an upcoming scene. The lion wasn’t quite as friendly as advertised. As Cuthbert later told the Calgary Sun, “My stunt double was there and the cougar was nibbling on her hand and I thought, ‘Oh, it’s like a pet.’ And I put my hand out and he totally attacked me. It was pretty freaky, but I got to go to the hospital.” Cuthbert didn’t need stitches but did receive a tetanus shot.
As the author of Born Free, JOY ADAMSON was a world-famous friend of African lions. So it was shocking and ironic when she was reported mauled to death near her home in Kenya on 3 January 1980. Adamson’s body was found near dusk, her walking stick by her side, and her bloody wounds were quickly assumed to be evidence of a lion attack. According to Caroline Cass in the 1992 book Joy Adamson: Behind the Mask, “Her young assistant… contacted a reporter for the East African Standard in Isiolo, who relayed the sensational news to Nairobi. It was the main item on the BBC World News and a shocked world took it for granted that Joy had been killed by a lion.”However, a later autopsy revealed the grim truth: Adamson had been not mauled but stabbed to death with a dagger. One of Adamson’s former employees, a young Turkana tribesman named Paul Nakware Ekai, was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison, but by then Adamson’s “mauling” had become part of public lore and the story continues to make the rounds.The mystery of her death didn’t end with the imprisonment of Ekai. He gave an interview in 2004 in which he claimed he had confessed to the killing only after being tortured, and that he had shot her to death, not stabbed her. Ekai said he killed her after she shot him in the foot over a dispute (Ekai further claimed Adamson was a tough boss who often shot at her workers in frustration). More than a year later, however, in late 2005, Ekai recanted his 1980 confession and said he had nothing whatsoever to do with Adamson’s death.
Can’t we all just get along? There are many celebrities who say we can. Read about them in another feature on Common Bonds: Critter Defenders »»