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Transcript: Sharon Stone vs. the Komodo Dragon

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Two weeks ago the foot of San Francisco Chronicle Executive Editor Phil Bronstein was severely damaged in an attack by a 10-foot Komodo dragon at the Los Angeles zoo. Sharon Stone had arranged the visit to the zoo as a present for her husband. She talks to TIME's Jess Cagle about the accident:


TIME: First of all, why was he going into a Komodo dragon's cage?

Sharon Stone: How about this. First of all we called the zoo. We did some research to find out who had a Komodo because Phil had always wanted to see one.

Why the curiosity?

He had never seen one and because it's the closest to a prehistoric creature that we can still see and give us a sense of that kind of history, which is very intriguing. He's been all over the world and not to have seen it — you know how guys like things. I want to see bunnies, he wants to see dragons. So we found it through research, and through the help of one of our nannies, whose husband is a lion tamer.

The zoo invited us. 'Yes, wonderful, come, bring the baby.' The baby had an ear infection so we didn't bring him. So we get to the zoo and they brought us inside the reptile house, so we saw iguanas and those amazing turtles that have been around for god knows how long, and like that. Just being inside looking in the cages was plenty of thrills for me.

Phil didn't know where we were going or why we were going there. It was a complete surprise. So we came around the corner and he was like, 'Oh my god this is so fabulous, I've always wanted to see this.' And the zookeeper said, 'would you like to go in the cage? It's very mild mannered. Everybody goes in there. Kids pet him. It's fine.' I thought, well I'm not going in there. I want to go to the bunny cage. But I thought, well this is so neat, he gets to go in.

So he went in and he started petting the dragon. The thing has a long, skinny forked tongue with yellow stripes. It started darting out at Phil's shoes. The zookeeper said, 'I'm sure he think it's the white rats that we feed him. You'd probably be better off without your shoes.' I thought they've got it all under control. Because we had no real experience with these animals, we didn't know. They told us it was mild mannered and kids pet it. If they'd said this tiger was mild mannered and kids petted it, you'd go, 'Yeah, but it's a tiger.' But you see this giant lizard and you don't think it's gonna try to rip you from limb to limb. The zookeeper was kind of one of those Mr. Rogers type guys, so we thought, no big deal.

So Phil gets in the cage and he's petting the dragon and I took a picture. The zookeeper, who was also in the cage, said, 'Come around to the side a little bit so she can get a better picture,' and as he started to move, this thing just lunged at him, grabbed his foot...

This was after he'd taken off his shoes and socks?

Oh, shit yeah! So there was that hideous moment where the three of us... It's such a break in reality, it's so inconceivable that it's happening, but there's that moment of stillness where you just stare in disbelief. Then Phil screamed and we heard this crunching sound. Instead of doing what I would've done if a dog bit me or something, shake my leg to get it off, Phil was very clever. His heel was still out of the thing's mouth. He stepped his heel down to pin the dragon. The deal is, they pull you off your feet and apparently then try to eat you.

How seriously was Phil's foot hurt?

It was very serious. When he pinned it down with his heel, so that it couldn't continue to maul him, it started to throw its body, slam its body back and forth, to try to maul him, to try to eat his foot. It took a piece of the top of his foot off completely, like probably a 4-inch long by an inch and a half, maybe two inches wide, all the flesh. It severed the main tendon to his big toe, the main tendon to the next toe, crushed the casing to the joints that join the big toe to the foot. So its bacteria was then inside the bone. This thing carries 22 deadly bacteria in its mouth. His toe was completely hanging off, and we didn't know if he would keep his toe, his foot, if he would ever be able to walk again or what was gonna happen. There were tons of children with their nose pressed against the glass while this was happening.

While the attack was happening?

Oh, absolutely.

What time of day was it?

Noon. And while I'm tourniquetting his foot and screaming for help, this whole baloney that there was nobody there, there was no time for anyone to see it, there were 10 kids, four adults, I mean, the whole cage was lined with little faces pressed against the glass. Very irresponsible.

How did he finally extricate himself from the dragon?

I think he has an unbelievable calm under pressure. And I'm sure this is something he learned during his years in the war zone. You don't become a Pulitzer finalist twice because you're running around being freaked out, you know? This is a guy who can keep his cool when things are happening. He yelled, like screamed out, then he reached down and opened the jaws off his foot and threw this thing. Then he started to try to get back out the way he got in, which was the feeding door, which was about 3 and a half feet high by probably 20 inches wide, so he's coming out foot first and I'm trying to pull him out.

I see that his foot is completely mangled. And we're trying to pull him out and now the animal has gone completely crazy. And the poor zookeeper who was just horrified, who was paralyzed in shock when it happened, was now trying to keep this thing away. And now that it had the taste of blood from Phil, it was continuing to try to attack him. It was slamming against Phil's back and clawing him. As I was trying to pull his upper body through the hole in the cage, the dragon's tongue literally came out between the cage door and his shoulder. The zookeeper who's still in the cage is screaming, 'Get him out! Get him out! Get him out! Get him out! I gotta get outta here! Get him out!' And I'm pulling him as fast as I can through this door, but it's still attacking Phil. The zookeeper is trying to kick this thing off and it's going crazy.

Phil had scratches on his thigh from it clawing him on the way out. I pulled him out and laid him down on the floor right in front of the door. I turned his sock inside out and made a tourniquet and put his foot on my shoulder because he was bleeding so severely. I'm very busy doing what I'm doing and not realizing that we are less than two feet from the cage door where the zookeeper's trying to get out and the animal's still trying to attack Phil. It's shoving its claws and its paws through the iron grill on the cage door. The zookeeper gets out and locks it and this dragon continues to slam its body against the door to try to get out and continue to attack him. Its underbelly is slamming against this metal grill about two feet from Phil's head.

There's no one there to help us.

I'm screaming, 'Help! Please, somebody, help us! Somebody call 911!' Finally when the zookeeper is out of the cage, and I put Phil's foot on his shoulder, I run down to try to use the phone, but the phone won't dial out of the local area code. I can't call 911. Finally someone comes and I'm screaming, 'You have to call 911! This man has a heart condition! You've got to get an ambulance here right now. He lost the top of his foot. This is really serious.'

About 10 minutes later these zoo medics ambled over in their shorts with their bags.

Zoo Medics?

The zoo medics. Okay? Not an ambulance, the zoo medics. Nobody got an ambulance. Twenty minutes later a fire truck comes. As the guys are getting out of the fire truck, I'm pounding on the fire truck door. My cell phone isn't working inside the reptile cage so I have to run down these narrow hallways filled with snakes and lizards and all this scary shit back and forth to check on Phil and get this thing in motion, so I start pounding on the side of the fire truck saying 'I need an ambulance, I need an ambulance.' They said they don't have anything that we don't have here. I said 'you don't have a stretcher and this man needs to go to the hospital and he has a heart condition' and they're telling me, 'Get out of the way. We're running the show here.' I'm like, 'Oh, guess again. I'm running the show here and this man needs an ambulance.'

I'm making my best Shirley MacLaine get them to call an ambulance. By the time we got him out of there it had been 35 or 40 minutes...

Finally, we get an ambulance, and they insist that they have to take him to Glendale Hospital, which does not have a trauma ward.

How did you know it didn't have a trauma ward?

Because I had my sister on the phone, who's a former nurse. I said, 'We're going to Cedars-Sinai.'

Was it your sister who warned you about the bacteria?

Oh yeah, she said, 'This is a life-threatening situation and you've got to explain to them why and you've got to get him to the hospital right now.' At Cedars, he did his pre-op and they were terrific. We got x-rays, we got it cleaned out, he got morphine. By the time that everybody was done screwing around, it had been well over an hour before he got any pain medication.

But once we got through everything at Cedars, they got him to UCLA Medical Center. And I would say he was in the O.R. in less than seven minutes. They had the guy looking at his EKG. They had a guy working on sedating him. I cut his trousers off. He still had his sock as his tourniquet. He went right into surgery. They did the surgery, they didn't have to do the skin graft, they reconstructed the joint around his toe, they reattached the tendon. When we were at the hospital, the head of the infectious disease department was staying overnight for the first three days and sat down with me and said, 'Two weeks ago I had five kids who petted a Komodo dragon and got severe salmonella poisoning and I was dealing with all of them. This is baloney that they said it was fine. It's not fine.'

The same dragon that bit Phil?

I don't think so. But I have been told that same dragon has had children petting it and near it.

How's Phil now?

He's gonna wear a cast for four weeks, then he has three months of rehabilitation to learn to walk again and the infectious disease people are all over him.

The zoo has made no secret that they're enjoying all the publicity from the incident.

When the director of the zoo [Manuel Mollinedo] came to the emergency room, in such a panic, I said, 'Look, this is all we want from you. We don't want you to do any sensationalized press and we want you to move the animal into quarantine, because if what you said is true, that he's mild mannered, we need to find out if it's a medical reason why it's not mild mannered today. We need you to keep this animal in quarantine for the duration of Phil's recovery in case something should happen to him so we have access to blood tests.'

Was this your doctors' advice?

No, it was just me, because I've heard about these stories. People get bitten by things and then six weeks later the thing has died and then what do you do? And because, you've got to remember, I work with a lot of infectious disease people through AMFAR, so when we're sitting around shooting the shit I hear a lot of stories about a lot of things. So I knew from my conversations with them that this was the thing to do.'

So the first thing the zoo did was a fundraiser with the dragon on display, making jokes. And you know, Phil is home after five days in the hospital, but he's in a hospital bed at home with IVs of antibiotics. This not like, he got his little toe nipped and he's skipping around and everything's fine. The zoo has not only not done [sensationalized press and no quarantining], they have actively done the opposite and I'm really surprised. What's shocking to me is that they're continuing these visits with animals that are known to be carnivorous.

They didn't say to us before we went in the cage, p.s. this thing's carnivorous and even though it's mild mannered, there's a certain danger. They put us in there with this lovely Mr. Rogers the zookeeper and left us alone in this reptile house with no help. No nothing, and kids with their faces pressed up against the glass. If they're going to put us in the cage with something so dangerous, they shouldn't have had kids standing around the glass being able to be distracting or whatever could've happened. They should've had, god knows, a net or some kind of ability to contain the animal.

You wouldn't put someone in a cage with a tiger and go, oh he's just mild mannered. You would still have the tiger wrangler. Something. Here's a pair of knee high boots with a steel thing. Not like swoop around here so we can get a better photo and pretending that it nipped him on the toe. If they don't spend some of all of this money they have quadrupled for some kind educational program so they can educate the zookeepers about how to handle situations, I just can't even imagine what to say next. I'm flabbergasted.

Have you thought about filing a lawsuit?

It's not, what, you know. In this particular case, all I really want is for them to get it, and educate people differently and not let children in these cages with these animals. I don't wantůyou know what I mean?

Have all the jokes in the media upset you?

I think a lot of the jokes are funny. Leno has been hilarious and kind-hearted in his jokes. I thought Letterman's Top 10 was really funny. But I think that people who are not professional comedians and maybe not well intended should put a lid on it and let the man survive the injury.