Thursday, May 15, 2008 | 3 a.m.
One of Las Vegas’ most successful acts was born on the high seas when Siegfried Fischbacher met Roy Horn on a cruise ship in 1957.
Siegfried worked as a cabin steward, Roy as a waiter. The pair began doing magic tricks for the ship’s passengers and eventually got their own show.
Siegfried’s penchant for magic combined with Roy’s talent for handling exotic animals became the Siegfried & Roy extravaganza that packed showrooms night after night and attracted worldwide attention.
Siegfried & Roy first appeared in Las Vegas in 1967 at the Tropicana. The pair eventually became headliners at a time when hotel executives didn’t think that magic in showrooms was cool or profitable. The duo proved them wrong, eventually entertaining more than 25 million people.
The German-born showmen entertained on Las Vegas stages at resorts such as the old MGM Grand (now Bally’s), the Stardust, the Frontier and the Mirage. Their shows — which ushered in an era of family-friendly entertainment in Las Vegas — featured spectacular illusions involving wild animals, including their signature white tigers.
They were handsomely rewarded for entertaining Las Vegas visitors. Steve Wynn’s Mirage, the Strip’s first megaresort, had opened by 1990 and Wynn signed the pair to a $57.5 million-a-year contract to — as their slogan said — “disappear nightly.”
In 2000, Siegfried & Roy, reported to be one of the 10 highest paid celebrity acts in the United States, signed a lifetime contract with the hotel. Unfortunately, that lifetime contract ran for just three more years.
The act retired after Roy suffered near-fatal injuries when one of the white tigers attacked him during a performance on Oct. 3, 2003, his 59th birthday. Roy’s convalescence was long and arduous.
The animal that attacked Roy, a 7-year-old tiger named Montecore, was kept in quarantine at the Mirage for 10 days as state law dictates. The tiger then retired to Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden at the Mirage. Roy continued receiving extensive therapy to overcome his injuries.
That incident capped a 13-year run at the Mirage for the pair. They had performed more than 5,700 times in Las Vegas.
In 2007 Siegfried & Roy announced that they planned to write a book to tell the world that they had been lovers and that even though their affair had ended, they remain close friends.