PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ A lead elephant that has thrilled millions and met several presidents dropped dead in a tent at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Preliminary indications were that Targa suffered a heart attack Sunday, said Robert Schwartz, a regional marketing director for the circus.

''Because Targa was such a friendly and intelligent elephant, she was a valued member of our family,'' said Schwartz.

Spectators reported seeing the elephant fall twice and clamber back to her feet while she was chained with 21 other elephants in a tent outside the Civic Center, where the circus was performing.

Targa fell a third time and failed to get to her feet, spectators said.

''The tent, the outside walls of the tent shook,'' said Richard Bishop, who was at the tent collecting elephant manure to fertilize his garden.

''There were real roars'' from the other elephants, Bishop said. ''All of them started moving around, trying to pull off the chains.''

A circus veterinarian was flying to Providence to perform an autopsy, Schwartz said. Schwartz said Targa was about 40 years old, while elephants usually live about 60 years, he said.

Targa's last performance was Saturday night, Schwartz said.

''She performed before millions of patrons, has met several presidents of the United States and was especially good with children,'' he said.