Obituary: Roy Horn, animal trainer who was half of legendary magic act Siegfried & Roy
Roy Horn of Siegfried & Roy, the duo whose magic tricks astonished millions until Horn was critically injured in 2003 by one of the act’s famed white tigers, has died at 75 of complications from the coronavirus.
“Today, the world has lost one of the greats of magic, but I have lost my best friend,” Siegfried Fischbacher said in a statement. “From the moment we met, I knew Roy and I, together, would change the world. There could be no Siegfried without Roy, and no Roy without Siegfried.”
Roy was injured in 2003 when a tiger named Montecore attacked him on stage at the Mirage, a hotel-casino in Las Vegas. He had severe neck injuries, lost a lot of blood and later suffered a stroke. He underwent lengthy rehabilitation, but the attack ended the long-running Las Vegas Strip production.
The darker-haired of the flashy duo, Horn was credited with the idea of introducing an exotic animal – his pet cheetah – to the magic act.
Siegfried & Roy became an institution in Las Vegas, where their magic and artistry consistently attracted sellout crowds. The pair performed six shows a week, 44 weeks per year. They returned to the stage in February 2009 for what was billed as their one and only comeback performance, to raise funds for the new Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. The brief performance included Montecore.
Horn and Siegfried Fischbacher, both natives of Germany, met on a cruise ship in 1957. Fischbacher performed the magic tricks, while Horn became his assistant,.
They honed their animal-magic show in clubs in Germany and Switzerland in the 1960s. Their break came in a Monte Carlo casino when an agent in the audience invited them to Las Vegas. The pair debuted at the Tropicana hotel-casino in the late 1960s.
The illusionists became popular in the 1970s, receiving their first star billing in 1978 as headliners of the Stardust’s Lido de Paris.
Siegfried & Roy began performing at the Mirage in 1990. When they signed a lifetime contract with the Mirage in 2001, it was estimated they had performed 5,000 shows at the casino for 10 million fans since 1990 and grossed more than $1 billion. That came on top of thousands of shows at other venues in earlier years.
“Throughout the history of Las Vegas, no artists have meant more to the development of Las Vegas’ global reputation as the entertainment capital of the world than Siegfried and Roy,” Terry Lanni, chairman of MGM Mirage, the casino’s parent company, said after the attack.
The pair gained international recognition for helping to save rare white tigers and white lions from extinction. Their $10 million compound was home to dozens of rare animals over the years. The white lions and white tigers were the result of a preservation programme that began in the 1980s.
Siegfried & Roy’s show, incorporating animal antics and magic tricks, included about 20 white tigers and lions, the number varying depending on the night. The show also had other exotic animals, including an elephant. “Their show is so fast-paced the viewer has time only to gasp before the next dazzlement,” a reviewer wrote in 1989 when they brought their act to New York. “A white car drives on stage – as Liberace used to do – bringing a mother white tiger and three cubs. Roy rides an elephant, which disappears, then reappears. At the end, a 650-pound white tiger climbs atop a globe. With Roy on his back, they’re pulled into the air.”
It was halfway during a performance 3 October 2003, when Horn was alone on stage with the tiger, that it suddenly lunged at him. Horn, who had turned 59 that day, had never been injured during a show previously, “not a scratch, not by an animal,” Bernie Yuman, the pair’s longtime manager, said at the time.
He said he thought Montecore, a seven-year-old male, had been distracted by something in the audience and Horn was trying to calm him. Horn himself said later that he fainted and the tiger was trying to help him by dragging him offstage; animal experts disputed that possibility.
An investigation by the US Department of Agriculture explored a variety of theories but was unable to reach a conclusion as to what caused the tiger to attack. In its final report, the USDA also said the show’s producers had failed to protect the audience because there was no barrier separating the exotic animals from the crowd.
When Horn and Fischbacher became US citizens in 1988, an elated Horn said, “Being an American means all the things we believe in.”
Horn once hand-fed a white lion cub born prematurely, starting with an eyedropper. But when a cub was donated to a zoo, Horn said he was heartbroken. “When you love something, the hardest thing is to let it go,” he said. “But this is what Siegfried & Roy do. We live our dreams, and we fulfill our destiny.”
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