Mr. Fischbacher and his longtime partner, Roy Horn, were inseparable throughout their careers, which lasted more than 40 years. They began working together as teenagers and ended up as headliners at their own 1,500-seat theater at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.
Their action ended abruptly on October 3, 2003, when a 400-pound white tiger locked its jaws on Horn’s neck and pulled him off the stage. Horn almost died of blood loss, had a stroke and never fully recovered. He died in May 2020 from covid-1
Mr. Fischbacher, the blonde half of the German-born duo, began performing magic tricks when he was 8 and was the greatest illusionist. Horn, who was closely associated with childhood animals, was the head coach of a menagerie that came to include panthers, horses and elephants as well as the signature white tigers and white lions featured in each Siegfried & Roy show.
The couple, who lived in a Las Vegas connection called Little Bavaria, had met when Mr. Fischbacher was a 17-year-old steward on a cruise ship. Horn, who ran from home at. 13, was a cabin boy on the ship. In his hometown of Bremen, he had worked in the local zoo and looked after a cheetah named Chico.
At the time, Mr. Fischbacher was working on the side as a magician on the ship.
“I told Siegfried, if he could get rabbits out of a hat, why could he not make cheetahs show up?” Horn remembered in 1993 in an interview with People Magazine. “I wanted to be a part of his action, 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 smuggle the cheetah out of the zoo on the ship. The couple developed an illusion in which Mr. Fischbacher tore apart a stuffed toy cheetah and threw the separated remnants into a box. They turned the box around, opened the lid and jumped Chico out. Over the years, Siegfried & Roy mastered more detailed variations on the same basic trick.
“When I told Roy, in magic, anything is possible, he believed so much,” Mr. Fischbacher told NBC’s show “Today” in 2003. “He looked at me like, oh, in magic, is anything possible? And he was the first one – he believed in me so much. ”
Siegfried & Roy struggled for years, surviving on potatoes while feeding their animals steak. They began to gain attention in 1966, after Princess Grace of Monaco – formerly known as actress Grace Kelly – admired one of their performances. They moved on to nightclubs in Paris and Madrid before coming to Las Vegas in 1967.
“I have to tell you,” a casino owner told them, “magic does not work in this city.”
For several years, Siegfried & Roy had a small act in Vegas-style revues between the dancers and showgirls. They did not become headliners until 1978, when their names made the tent at Stardust. They later moved to Frontier, where their show gained ongoing popularity and sold year after year.
Finally, the duo signed a contract to be shown at a new casino hotel, Mirage, being built by Steve Wynn. Siegfried & Roy were guaranteed at least $ 57.5 million for five years along with a $ 40 million theater built to their specifications. Wynn also paid $ 18 million to create an 88-acre wildlife for magicians outside of Las Vegas. Variety, the entertainment publication, called it the biggest contract in show business history until then.
Siegfried & Roy waited for their new venue to be completed in Japan for nearly a year and then sold 32 shows in four weeks at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. They opened at Mirage in 1990 with a production that Mr. Fischbacher called “not a magic show as such. It’s more spectacular with magical moments. ”
A Siegfried & Roy performance embraced the senses: there were dramatic lighting effects, music, dancers and of course animals. Women were magically transformed into tigers, lions appeared to hover over the stage, an elephant disappeared before the eyes of the audience. There was an implicit history line that suggested death and transfiguration.
At the center of all this action and sensory mystery was Siegfried & Roy, equipped with shiny, sequined costumes as they embraced and embraced the animals. People magazine called them “Liberaces of Legerdemain” after the outrageously exaggerated Las Vegas star.
Their faces were on billboards described as “Masters of the Impossible,” and they came to symbolize that campy, over-the-top sensitivity of Las Vegas as much as any entertainer before or since. Their theater was sold out for each show twice a day (three on the weekends), 46 weeks a year. They brought $ 44 million a year to Mirage.
“The show is our life, and life is our show,” Mr. Fischbacher told “Today.”
And as long as Siegfried & Roy were together, for more than 30,000 performances, nothing seriously went wrong. Until it happened catastrophically on October 3, 2003 Horn’s 59th birthday.
When Horn bled from the throat, Mr. Fischbacher ran to his aid and heard him say, “Do not hurt the cat.” Assistant trainers emptied fire extinguishers on the white tiger until it released the grip and went to its cage.
Many wondered why a tiger who had been trained by Horn since birth suddenly turned on him with almost deadly force. Experts from animal behavior weighed in, and advocates for animal rights were outraged. (The white tiger who abused 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 study that reached no firm conclusions. Sir. Fischbacher suggested that Horn might have had a mini-blow on stage and that the white tiger was trying to carry him to safety.
For several months Fischbacher lived on Horn’s side during his long and incomplete recovery. He did not try to revive the action or work as a solo artist. The theater at Mirage went dark.
“In all these years,” Mr. Fischbacher told CNN talk show host Larry King, “I always say I’m a magician and he’s the magic.
Siegfried Fischbacher was born on June 13, 1939 in Rosenheim near Munich. His mother was a housewife, his father a house painter, held as a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union during World War II. He said his father became an alcoholic.
As a child, Mr. Fischbacher magic. He was 8, he told People magazine, “when my dad came to me after I mastered my first trick and said, ‘How did you do that?’ These few words became the starting lines in my life. It was the first time I got attention from him and the first time someone noticed me. ”
By the age of 20, he had formed a lasting partnership with Horn, who had a similar troubled childhood. They never spoke publicly about the nature of their relationship, but in a 1992 autobiographical book, “Mastering the Impossible,” they said they both had relationships with women.
Horn’s mother lived with them for years in Las Vegas, and Mr. Fischbacher and Horn eventually lived in separate houses on their property. “It’s not what people think,” Fischbacher told the Los Angeles Times in 2003. “We are a perfect team.”
Survivors include a sister.
Sir. Fischbacher and Horn were active in animal welfare efforts and played an important role in the development of international breeding programs to preserve the very rare white tigers and white lions.
Following Horn’s 2003 assault, the couple occasionally made public appearances, including a modified performance in 2009 to raise money for brain injury research.
“Do you know what the secret behind Siegfried & Roy was?” Sir. Fischbacher told the Los Angeles Times in 2003 and spoke through tears. “It was love – the audience knew it, felt it.”