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October 1, 2014

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Revelations from Siegfried & Roy as 10th anniversary of tiger Montecore incident approaches

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TVT

Roy Horn feeds Montecore in June 2008.

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Siegfried & Roy, reunited with the big cat Montecore.

Siegfried & Roy: Gala, Backstage and on '20/20'

Siegfried & Roy backstage after their reunion and farewell performance. Launch slideshow »

2008 Great Santa Run-Siegfried & Roy

Siegfried & Roy are joined by Robin Leach at the Great Santa Run Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008,  in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Millions of Europeans will watch a four-hour TV documentary this Thursday of Roy Horn’s amazing 10-year recovery as we celebrate his 69th birthday at a black-tie gala at the Mirage. It’s exactly a decade since he cheated death not once but three times, flatlining after his beloved then-7-year-old tiger Montecore caused him major injuries.

I’d celebrated his birthday onstage at the Mirage with magic partner Siegfried Fischbacher the night before the tragic incident. There was a giant cake decorated with white tigers and a Marilyn Monroe impersonator who sang him “Happy Birthday.”

Amazingly, when Roy was dragged offstage 24 hours later by the 600-pound tiger, he was left with a gaping neck puncture wound but pleaded, “Don’t shoot the tiger.” It took seven minutes to get him to our University Medical Center trauma unit. Hotel mogul Steve Wynn, who had given the duo a lifetime contract, was among the first at his bedside: “He sent a message to his fans by squeezing my hand that he could handle it.”

Three days later, Roy’s neurosurgeon, Dr. Derek Duke, agreed, telling us that he’d suffered two strokes almost immediately and flat lined three times on the operating table. “While still in critical condition after undergoing three operations, he is fighting fiercely for his life," he said. "It’s all but miraculous that he’s alive at this time. A contributing factor to his current condition is his extraordinary will and strong physical attributes.”

Siegfried & Roy told me long ago that they’d made a pact if either was ill, incapacitated or unable to work, the other doesn’t go on without him: “There is no Siegfried & Roy without Roy."

The illusionists ended their show’s amazing Las Vegas run and their career — and for a decade they have devoted their lives to Roy’s amazing recovery. I remember at the time Siegfried saying, “I was overwhelmed by his injury. I was so alone and so lost, I got in a depression because the show was over. It was a struggle for me to hold on.”

The illusionist who had part of his brain cut away and stored in his stomach for a while to reduce swelling was told that he would never speak, walk or perform magic again. He suffered a crushed windpipe and was left partially paralyzed with damaged neck arteries.

Incredibly, “the man with the strength of 1,000 men” defied all the odds and proved every doctor wrong. He realized the ultimate triumph over the toughest challenge of them all.

Roy still requires constant therapy, but he can walk, talk and in March 2009 performed magic again. In the past 10 years, I’ve chronicled many stories of his amazing achievements, particularly with hospital treatment and therapies in Los Angeles, Germany and Utah. They also were my first guests on the pilot I shot at their Jungle Palace and Little Bavaria estates for “Entertainment Tonight” and the “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” premiere special in 1983 that kicked off our 13-year series run.

I talked Siegfried into encouraging Roy to perform again with the big cat Montecore as a way to say a final proper goodbye at our 2009 Keep Memory Alive gala fundraiser for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, which ABC broadcast on “20/20.” It was one of the greatest nights in showbiz history, never to be repeated.

Siegfried and Roy on ABC

I value and respect my friendship with the two great guys. I’ve reported on Roy’s medical treatments and progress, his horse-riding workouts, his pool therapies and their extraordinary participation in the Great Santa Run for Opportunity Village. I posted the first exclusive photos of Roy with Montecore when he was first able to feed him again in June 2008.

Their Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat is still open at the Mirage, attracting thousands of devoted fans and admirers all year long.

On Thursday, I’ll be with them again as Las Vegas VIPs, civic leaders, neurosurgeons, trauma doctors and dignitaries all join to sing Roy “Happy Birthday” at a gala celebration and hear news about their new Sarmoti Foundation that will support endangered animals worldwide and our Metro Police Department’s K-9 team.

I talked with them at length again over the weekend in advance of the birthday party, which simultaneously marks the anniversary of the tiger incident. Thanks to Richard Corey for his YouTube posting of my interview.

Robin Leach interviews Siegfried and Roy

Siegfried told me: “This will now be our mission, our calling, our legacy. We started our careers here in Las Vegas, and we are so grateful that it’s now our turn to really give back and support some real needs. It’s a great feeling to know at this point of our lives that we can do so many wonderful things by giving back. It’s for endangered animals, the work of K-9 and also our two-legged friends.

“We are not hiding the fact that our careers ended that night 10 years ago. We are celebrating on its anniversary what we can now achieve for the good of the world. We are dedicated to protect, conserve and preserve threatened animals globally. We want to take direct action to prevent their extinction.”

After they received $30,000 in donations at the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction at Mandalay Bay over the weekend, Roy told me: “We aren’t just taking the money and running. We will be headquartered in Las Vegas for the rest of our lives, and we’re going to support a lot of animal work locally.”

Then he gave me goose bumps. I asked Roy how he felt looking back over the 10 years since the Montecore incident. “First, I feel fabulous. Montecore is my blood brother. We are closer than we have ever been.”

Siegfried explained: “The cameras recorded Roy feeding Montecore by hand. They now have an amazing bond. Look at their faces when Montecore kisses Roy on the lips, and Roy hugs the tiger. That is real magic. In their faces, you can see that magic. It gives goose bumps to everybody.”

The unprecedented European TV broadcast will run from 8 p.m. to midnight Thursday. “I’d normally be in bed by 10 p.m.,” Siegfried said, laughing. “I can’t imagine anybody watching me for four hours, but the way they filmed it is remarkable.

“We promise to stay up later than normal on Thursday for the party. We’re working now on having the show edited to be broadcast here in America. It will happen because it’s such a remarkable 10-year journey of overcoming all the odds.

“The camera crews moved in for seven straight days of filming. Roy will be seen swimming in the pool for his strengthening workouts and riding his horses. It’s a beautiful documentary. It starts the night of the last performance at the Mirage. Then it goes into our history and Las Vegas stage careers leading up to the 13-year run of 5,000 shows at the Mirage that ended so suddenly.

“From there, it’s the extraordinary 10-year story of Roy’s courage and determination to walk and talk again. It will be wonderful publicity to go with our launch announcement of the Sarmoti Foundation (Siegfried & Roy: Masters of the Impossible).”

I had to apologize for asking Roy how he felt the first time he hugged Montecore, kissed and fed him in the open without any barrier: “There was no fear, no fright. He is my brother.”

Siegfried added: “I am very privileged to have witnessed all these things in his life for 55 years.”

And Roy summed up: “I keep going — I promise.”

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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