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September 30, 2014

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Siegfried & Roy’s mantra: Never stop working

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Leila Navidi

Siegfried & Roy share in cake.

Siegfried & Roy at the Secret Garden

Siegfried & Roy share in cake. Launch slideshow »

Today you watch as Roy Horn walks, gingerly but with little aid, and you wonder how much more improvement remains in his tireless quest for rehabilitation. He could easily be dead from the injuries he suffered after being dragged off the stage in the mouth of the big cat Montecore. That he is at all walking and talking is a miracle of modern medicine, and those close to him say it’s nothing short of miraculous that he is still appearing in public after the frightful events of Oct. 3, 2003.

But Roy walks, with the occasional aid of a cane and the more prevalent assistance of his decades-long performing partner and friend, Siegfried Fischbacher. They shuffle along, slowly but steadily, to their next photo opportunity with their famed white tigers. This afternoon it was to celebrate the 1-year birthday of five tiger cubs shuttled from the duo’s residence near Vegas Drive and Decatur Boulevard to the Secret Garden at The Mirage in June of last year. As a dozen photographers and scores of S&R fans gathered in the tree-shrouded jungle-themed attraction, Siegfried and longtime assistant (and Evil Queen onstage) Lynette Chappell led Roy up the walkway to the outdoor habitats where the tigers Chakra, Star, Svengali, Celestial and Cosmo reside. They’re cute and cuddly -- from a safe distance. For this event, Siegfried & Roy didn’t make any direct contact with the cats and watched from beyond a tall chain-link fence, as any visitor to the Secret Garden would observe the powerful animals.

Vintage Siegfried and Roy

S&R always dress stylishly, you can count on that. Defying temperatures in the upper-90s, Siegfried was clad in black slacks, a white dress shirt and a black vest. Roy was in a yolk-yellow, button-down shirt over a black T-shirt with a big tiger emblazoned on the front. He wore white slacks, black New Balance sneakers and, around his neck, a thick wooden cross and whistle. The whistle was used to summon all those cats, who ambled out on cue and swatted at a few gift-wrapped boxes set out for the occasion. These cats love the boxes, I’m told. At the duo’s urging, the crowd sang, “Happy Birthday,” a birthday cake was presented, and S&R took the mic to say thanks to everyone who turned up for the event. They made those comments first in English, then in German, nodding to their still-enormous popularity in their homeland.

For an hour afterward, the duo signed copies of their book, “Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Begins at Home,” and other mementos presented by all those fans. On the walk from the birthday celebration to the book signing outside the Secret Garden gift shop, the two said that Roy continues to diligently work toward recovery. “I’m great, great.,” Roy said, saying that his workout routine includes, “Hanging out with my animals.” Siegfried, who often adds commentary to questions posed to Roy, said, “He walks the dogs every day. We go to the gym, and we work out, every day.” Siegfried remains the chief motivator in Roy’s workout regimen. “He’s a task master,” Roy said, his voice strong and his words measured. “I should pay him double. He keeps me on it.” Roy continues to promise a full recovery. “This is only the beginning.”

Both said that the Feb. 28 appearance at the Keep Memory Alive “Power of Love” gala at the Bellagio to benefit the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health was without question their final public performance. It was not an easy assignment, even for veteran entertainers who had captivated audiences for decades. I asked about the reports (my own) of Roy coughing up blood before the Feb. 28 show. Siegfried fielded that one, “He had a little problem. It’s what happens when there is so much pressure on you. We had not performed for years. There are a lot of things to think about, a lot of people you don’t want to let down at an event so big, and you have trepidation. You can have problems with confidence.” As he spoke, Siegfried made a rolling motion with his right hand, as if to indicate an upset digestive system. Almost not believing what I was about to say, I asked, “Was it a case of pre-show retching?” Siegfried chuckled and said, “You could say that, yes.”

I also asked if the duo might well have retired by now even if Roy hadn’t been severely injured that night at The Mirage. Siegfried looks terrific, but he does turn 70 next month. Roy is 64. “I doubt it,” Siegfried said, after pausing to consider voluntarily stepping down from the stage. “You are always thinking about new things to do, always being creative. We spent 45 wonderful years together, 40 in Las Vegas, and I don’t think we would have ever retired.”

Roy had the last word on this point: “Once you are in show business, you are always in show business.”

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