He crouches on a rock overlooking East End Drive, ready to pounce at any second. But fear not park goers, this big cat is forever frozen in bronze. It’s the statue of Terry the panther, and his story is as wild as the city itself.
It was a rather chilly autumn in 1978, but things were still hot at Studio 54. Every night the infamous discotheque attracted the hippest celebrities, movie stars and musicians; and all of them wanted to get down and boogey until they just couldn’t boogey no more.
Steve Rubell, always looking for a way to keep his club’s name in the papers, decided to add a mascot to Studio 54. Acquiring a panther from parts unknown, Rubell named the sleek black cat Terry and put him in a gold plated cage with red velvet pillows next to the dance floor.
On Saturday night October 14, Bianca Jagger accidentally tripped the latch to Terry’s cage, and the wily panther charged across the dance floor. Coincidentally, Gloria Gaynor’s new hit I Will Survive was playing over the sound system. Terry ran out onto 54th street and headed north to Central Park with Rubell and a handful of club goers pursuing in limousines.
Terry took refuge in the thick woods of the Ramble as Rubell and his companions cruised Park Drive looking for him. Rubell brought along the Indian from the Village People hoping his tracking skills would help him find his missing feline. But the Indian soon confessed that although he was part Lakota Sioux, he was born and raised in Brooklyn and had no idea how to find anything except a good time. Rubell then called off the hunt and returned to Studio 54, a good decision on his part, as the search party was running out of champagne and Andy Warhol was getting bored.
A sleeping Terry the panther was captured by animal control officers the following morning. Before he was placed in the Central Park Zoo, Terry spent seven weeks in a drug treatment facility to kick the $1600.00 a day cocaine habit he developed during his time at Studio 54.