When Neil the lion came to live with Tippi Hendren, her whole life turned upside down.
In 1969, Neil the lion moved in with The Birds star Tippi Hendren her husband, producer Noel Marshall and daughter, actress Melanie Griffith. Hendren and Marshall were inspired to write the film Roarwhile on set for another film in Africa, when they came across an abandoned house full of lions. Ron Oxley, Neil’s trainer, suggested that they live with Neil for a while to get a sense of what they were like. So, Hendren moved the family to an isolated ranch in California to live with the big cat.
Although their experience with Neil was a good one one, Melanie, Tippi and Noel were all seriously injured by exotic animals during the 11-year filming of Roar. Melanie was mauled and received 50 stitches, and Tippi was bitten on the neck by a lion requiring 38 stitches.
In hindsight, Hendren admits that having a 400lb lion for a family pet was “stupid beyond belief.” Although Neil didn’t harm any member of the family, he did attack Oxley at a dinner party. Oxley was able to take control of the situation and assert dominance, but it was certainly a tense moment. He may have been tame, but Neil could have killed anyone at any time.
In her memoir, Hendren remembers the sickening feeling in her stomach when she saw Neil sleeping next to Melanie in bed. In an interview with the UK’s Daily Mail, she recalled just how much she regrets the risk she took with Neil. “I have to tell you we were stupid beyond belief. We should never have taken those risks. These animals are so fast, and if they decide to go after you, nothing but a bullet to the brain will stop them.”
To this day, she openly criticizes the practice of keeping exotic animals as pets, which is still legal in many states.
Would you live with a lion?
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