Mr. Fishbacher and his longtime partner Roy Horn have been inseparable throughout their more than 40-year careers. They began working together as teenagers and found themselves as headliners in their own 1,500-seat theater at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.
Their action abruptly ended on October 3, 2003, when a 400-pound white tiger locked its jaws to Horn’s neck and pulled him off the stage. Horn nearly died of blood loss, suffered a stroke, and never fully recovered. He died in May 2020 from covid-1
Mr. Fishbacher, the blonde half of the German-born duo, began performing magic tricks when he was 8 and a prime magician. Horn, who was attached to animals since childhood, was the head coach of a menagerie that included panthers, horses and elephants, as well as white tigers and white lions, highlighted in every Siegfried & Roy show.
The couple, who lived in a Las Vegas complex called Little Bavaria, had met when Mr. Fishbacher was a 17-year-old cruise ship steward. Horn, who ran away from home at 13, was a boy from the ship’s cabin. In his hometown of Bremen, he had worked at a local zoo caring for a cheetah named Chico.
At the time, Mr. Fishbacher was working on the side as a ship wizard.
“I told Siegfried, if he could get rabbits out of a hat, why couldn’t he get the cheetahs to show up?” Horn recalled in a 1993 interview with People magazine. “I wanted to be a part of his act and I wanted to find a way to be with my cheetah again.”
Horn, who became Mr. Fischbacher’s stage partner in 1959, used a laundry bag to get the cheetah out of the ship’s zoo. They created the illusion that Mr. Fishbacher tore stuffed cheetahs from toys and threw the dismembered remains in a box. They turned the box over, opened the lid, and Chico jumped out. Over the years, Siegfried and Roy have mastered more complex variations of the same basic trick.
“When I told Roy, anything is possible in magic, he believed so much,” Mr. Fishbacher told NBC’s “Today” in 2003. “He looked at me like, Oh, in magic, is anything possible? And he was the first – he trusted me so much. ”
Siegfried and Roy struggled for years, surviving on potatoes while feeding their animals steak. They began to receive a remark in 1966 after Princess Grace of Monaco – formerly known as actress Grace Kelly – admired one of their performances. They moved to nightclubs in Paris and Madrid before coming to Las Vegas in 1967.
“I have to tell you,” a casino owner told them, “magic doesn’t work in this town.”
For several years, Siegfried & Roy played a small role in Vegas-style shows, between dancers and shows. They only became headliners in 1978, when their names made tents in Stardust. They later moved to Frontier, where the show gained escaping popularity, selling off year after year.
Finally, the duo signed a contract to appear in a new casino hotel, Mirage, built by Steve Win. Siegfried & Roy was guaranteed a minimum of $ 57.5 million over five years, along with a $ 40 million theater built to their specifications. Win also paid $ 18 million to create an 88-acre habitat for wizards outside of Las Vegas. Variety, the entertainment publication, called it the biggest contract in the history of show business until then.
In anticipation of the completion of their new place, Siegfried & Roy performed in Japan for almost a year, after which they sold 32 shows in four weeks at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. They opened in Mirage in 1990 with a production that Mr. Fishbacher called “not a magic show as such. It’s more spectacular with magical moments. “
Siegfried & Roy’s performance encompassed the senses: there were dramatic lighting effects, music, dancers and, of course, animals. The women were magically transformed into tigers, the lions seemed to levitate above the stage, an elephant disappeared before the eyes of the audience. There was a default storyline alluding to death and transfiguration.
At the center of all this action and sensory mystique were Siegfried and Roy, dressed in gleaming, sequined costumes as they hugged and hugged the animals. People magazine called them “Liberaces of legerdemain” after ugly disguising the Las Vegas star.
Their faces were on billboards described as “Masters of the Impossible,” and they came to symbolize the mysterious, hypersensitive sensibility of Las Vegas, like all artists before or after. Their theater was sold out for each performance, twice a day (three on weekends), 46 weeks a year. They imported $ 44 million a year for Mirage.
“The show is our life and life is our show,” Mr. Fishbacher told The Today.
And while Siegfried and Roy were together, for more than 30,000 performances, nothing went seriously wrong. Until he did, catastrophically, on October 3, 2003, Horn’s 59th birthday.
As Horn was bleeding from his neck, Mr. Fishbacher came to his aid and heard him say, “Don’t hurt the cat.” Auxiliary trainers emptied the fire extinguishers on the white tiger as he released his grip and headed for his cage.
Many people speculated as to why a tiger trained by Horn from birth suddenly turned on him with almost deadly force. Animal behavior experts judged and animal rights activists were outraged. (The white tiger that tortured Horn lived until his natural death in 2014.)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates the use of large animals for entertainment, conducted a two-year investigation that did not lead to hard conclusions. Mr Fishbacher suggested that Horn may have had a mini-stroke on stage and that the white tiger was trying to get him to safety.
For months, Mr. Fischbacher remained with Horn’s side during the long and incomplete recovery. He did not try to revive the action or work as a solo artist. The Mirage Theater darkened
“All these years,” Mr. Fishbacher told CNN talk show host Larry King, “I always say I’m the magician and he’s the magician.
Siegfried Fischbacher was born on June 13, 1939 in Rosenheim, near Munich. His mother was a housewife and his father a painter who was held prisoner of war in the Soviet Union during World War II. He said his father had become an alcoholic.
As a child, Mr. Fishbacher practiced magic. He was 8, he told People magazine, “when my father came to me after I learned my first trick and said, ‘How did you do it? “These few words became the starting lines in my life. For the first time I received attention from him and for the first time someone noticed me. “
At the age of 20, he formed a lasting partnership with Horn, who had a similarly troubled childhood. They have never spoken publicly about the nature of their relationship, but in a 1992 autobiography, Mastering the Impossible, they say they both had relationships with women.
Horn’s mother lived with them in Las Vegas for years, and Mr. Fishbacher and Horn ended up living in separate houses on their estate. “It’s not what people think,” Mr. Fishbacher told the Los Angeles Times in 2003. “We’re a perfect team.”
Survivors include a sister.
Mr. Fishbacher and Horn have been active in animal conservation efforts and have played a key role in developing international breeding programs for the conservation of the extremely rare white tigers and white lions.
After the Horn launch in 2003, the couple made occasional public appearances, including a modified performance in 2009, to raise money for brain injury research.
“Do you know what Siegfried and Roy’s secret was?” Mr Fischbacher told the Los Angeles Times in 2003, speaking through tears. “It was love – the audience knew it, felt it.”