Wolfgang Holzmair, one of the greatest lion tamers of the 20th century and a legendary figure in circus history, has died at the age of 80.
Friends said the German-born Holzmair, who spent the final decades of his life running a restaurant in Cahors in southwestern France, had passed away after a long illness.
He made his name with the celebrated Barnum & Bailey circus in the United States, where he would regularly enter cages full of lions with only a couple of canes and his Roman centurion outfit for protection.
The so-called "Lord of the Lions" later performed with the Amar, Pinder and Jean Richard circuses in France.
Pinder's current owner, Gilbert Edelstein, hailed Holzmair as one of the greatest figures in circus history.
"Those who had the chance to see him in action will never forget his performances," Edelstein said. "No one has ever repeated what he did in mastering 22 lions in a cage."
Jacques Bousquet, the founder of France's Christmas at the Circus festival, said Holzmair had made his mark on a certain era in the circus. "He was one of the first Europeans to be recruited by Barnum, the greatest circus in the world," he said. "He was a strong personality, very lovable, and very respected, but who could appear rude at times."
An orphan, Holzmair entered the circus world as a teenager and soon discovered he had a natural authority that was to help him in his perilous speciality.
Stephane Gistau, of the Amar circus added: "He had an uncanny ability to tell whether this or that beast would be trainable or not."