Thursday, Sept. 16, 2004 | 8:15 a.m.
LOS ANGELES -- Nearly a year after a tiger attack left him partly paralyzed, Roy Horn, half of the illusionist duo Siegfried & Roy, for the first time described his memories of the mauling during a television interview that aired Wednesday.
In an interview with Maria Shriver on NBC, Horn said he fainted onstage during the fateful performance and that the 380-pound tiger was only trying to help him by dragging him off stage.
"It's just my body. I have high blood pressure," Horn said, referring to why he fainted Oct. 3, 2003.
Asked by Shriver what he was thinking at the time, Horn said: "Dear God, let this be just a bad nightmare."
Horn was attacked by a tiger named Montecore during a live performance at The Mirage. The 7-year-old tiger bit into the performer's neck and dragged him offstage. A show employee broke the animal's grip by using a fire extinguisher.
Horn survived but remains partially paralyzed following a stroke he suffered immediately following the attack. His speech is distorted by a slight lisp.
During the hourlong NBC special "Siegfried & Roy: The Miracle," doctors described how they resuscitated Horn, whose heart stopped for about a minute.
Horn sustained four deep wounds, including two punctures in the back of his head and two deep cuts on the front of his neck, the doctors said. The tiger's teeth had damaged an artery that carries oxygen to the brain, and crushed Horn's trachea.
A procedure was performed in which doctors removed part of Horn's skull to allow the brain to swell. The section of skull was sewn into his abdomen until it was replaced weeks later.
On the operating table, Horn told Shriver he had a near-death experience.
"I saw a bank of white light, and then I saw all my beloved animals," Horn said. "For a moment I stepped out of my body."
Horn, who now uses a motorized wheelchair, was shown undergoing physical therapy -- walking, kicking a soccer ball and lifting weights.
"Every inch of your skin hurts ... I cry to sleep," he said.
Horn's partner, Siegfried Fischbacher, said he will do whatever it takes to help.
"If he's not going to be able to use his left arm, then I'm going to be his left arm," Fischbacher said during the interview. "It breaks my heart sometimes. But most of the time, it's heartwarming, it's bitter and it's sweet. Now I know life is a gift."
Horn said he is living life without regrets or animosity.
"I feel I have so many projects and I haven't completed them yet," he said.
There's no talk of reviving the illusionists' show, which debuted in 1990, but Siegfried & Roy are involved in NBC's new animated show "Father of the Pride."
The special, produced by NBC's entertainment division, marked Shriver's return to prime-time television. The wife of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took a leave from the network's news division after his election.