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October 22, 2014

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Siegfried & Roy special a revealing look at both Las Vegas legends

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ABC TV

ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas and Roy listen to Siegfried inside their warehouse of magic tricks.

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Larry Ruvo with Siegfried & Roy.

In a 1996 interview with ABC, Roy Horn remarks, “It feels wonderful, I cannot even tell you the feeling of having a full-grown tiger lick your face. But you also have to think that, at the same time, with one swipe of the paw, he can decapitate you. It’s that simple. You can take nothing for granted, even if you think you know it all.”

You can take nothing for granted.

That clip was unearthed as part of Friday night’s special edition of “20/20,” titled “The Magic Returns.” The hourlong documentary hosted by Elizabeth Vargas was a revealing look at Siegfried & Roy’s career and how both performers struggled to move forward after Horn was hauled off the stage while in the mouth of the white tiger Montecore at The Mirage on Oct. 3, 2003. It closes with the duo’s performance at the Keep Memory Alive gala at the Bellagio on Feb. 28. For anyone even remotely interested in Siegfried & Roy’s legacy in Vegas, the documentary – still available in a series of five clips on the ABC News Web site – is compelling without seeming maudlin. The “20/20” crew dug up priceless black-and-white footage of the duo onstage dating to the late 1950s and made the most of its seemingly boundless access to the duo as they prepped for their final performance. The trip through the duo’s warehouse of stage effects, where Roy pretends to saw Siegfried in half, was an example of the rare glimpses behind the scenes of S&R’s legendary stage show.

Candid moments with Siegfried & Roy

Siegfried & Roy and ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas inside S&R's warehouse of magic tricks. Launch slideshow »

A lot has been written in the week since S&R appeared for about eight minutes at the Keep Memory Alive gala. My own reporting from that night, in the form of a series of live blogs from the event posted on the Las Vegas Sun, Las Vegas Weekly and Vegas DeLuxe Web sites, has been questioned. Suffice to say I stand by everything I wrote that night, including Horn’s physical condition in the hours leading up to the event.

A few other thoughts from the “20/20” show:

 Vargas reminded of initial reports in the aftermath of the incident that the October 2003 appearance was Montecore’s first in front of an audience. But it was soon clarified that Montecore was a stage veteran who had performed hundreds of times in front of an audience prior to the night he injured Roy. The claim, which added suspense to Montecore’s arrival onstage, was part of the act.

 Footage of all the celebs and Vegas dignitaries on hand is evidence of Larry Ruvo’s influence in this community. In tough economic times, he put on a lavish event and raised $12 million for the research and treatment center at Union Park. I don’t know if there is an individual in Las Vegas better connected than Ruvo, who has the dexterity to bring together the renowned Cleveland Clinic and Siegfried & Roy for a common cause in Las Vegas.

 The relationship between Siegfried & Roy, especially Siegfried’s dedication to Horn’s rehabilitation, was made obvious. I have seen Siegfried & Roy a number of times (joined by a personal trainer and medical assistant) at the gym. Siegfried is always there, even when no cameras are around to document the workout. The three-year-old NBC clip of Siegfried shouting, “You’re doing it, Roy!” as Horn walks several feet during a rehab exercise, was also replayed.

 Why was Cher interviewed? Just wondering. Wayne Newton, for his parallel career path in Vegas, would have been a better choice to talk about the influence of Siegfried & Roy, but The Wayner said last week he was feeling ill and not available to be interviewed. Still, someone with deeper Vegas roots than Cher would have been a better call. Even Steve Lawrence, or Tom Jones, someone who has stronger Strip underpinnings to talk about these guys.

 Lynette Chappell reinforced her unique role in the S&R legacy. The former Evil Queen, longtime assistant and confidante said the duo still bicker. “There is great drama, at all times,” she said. “It’s very theatrical.” If Chappell ever writes a book about her time with S&R, it would be, how you say, a real page-turner.

 Siegfried detailed his depression after the show abruptly closed, talking of hiding out with 1,500 monks in Greece, and remains an eager and compelling figure in the world of Las Vegas entertainment. I could easily see him as the host of a production somewhere on the Strip, interacting with the crowd, performing some illusions himself and introducing a rotation of specialty acts. I doubt Siegfried would ever want to perform a residency show without Roy, but there are far worse concepts in full production right now in Las Vegas.

 Siegfried said his great frustration of working with Roy was that Roy is always late. “I have spent half of my life waiting for Roy,” he said. Roy added, “He says I would be late for my own funeral.”

For a man who has survived an attack that should have killed him, and who technically died three times on the operating table, that’s already true.

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