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September 22, 2014

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Siegfried & Roy’s “20/20” special airs tonight

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Curtis Dahl Photography

Siegfried & Roy, reunited with the big cat Montecore.

It was one of the greatest nights in Las Vegas showbiz history and will never be repeated. It was the ultimate triumph over the toughest challenge of them all. Illusionist Roy Horn was told after he’d “died three times” on an operating table that he would never speak, walk or perform magic again.

Roy defied all the odds and proved every doctor wrong. He also showed his total love for the tiger Montecore who had injured him in October 2003. Roy partnered up again with Siegfried for their final reunion show Saturday at the Keep Memory Alive “Power of Love” gala at the Bellagio, and Montecore was also brought onstage for a final bow. The story of Roy’s five-year rehabilitation is the focus of today’s one-hour 20/20 special at 9 p.m. on ABC with anchor Elizabeth Vargas, who filmed the two in Las Vegas as they prepared for the performance. In candid interviews, Siegfried, 69, told the newswoman how the accident affected him: “I was overwhelmed by the injury to my friend. It was a struggle for me to hold on. I was so alone and so lost. I got in a depression because the show was over.” Click here for ABC's advance clips of tonight's show.

Stars Support Siegfried and Roy

Siegfried and Roy reunite for their final performance to benefit the upcoming Lou Ruvo Brain Institute in Las Vegas. Emily Gimmel hits the red carpet and talks to Teri Hatcher, Hilary Duff, among other stars.

Hotel tycoon Steve Wynn also appears on tonight’s primetime special. Steve brought S&R and their animals to The Mirage, reshaping Las Vegas entertainment. It took 250 cast and crewmembers to present the spectacle every night moving 75 tons of scenery. It ran for more than 5,000 performances.

The ABC cameras will show Siegfried & Roy’s Jungle Palace home, where at one point Roy let 63 tigers, 16 lions and other exotic animals run freely. Siegfried told Elizabeth that he always marveled at Roy’s unique connection with them: “It was unbelievable for me, and I never understood it, and sometimes I got a little jealous because how come I can’t be that way?”

Candid moments with Siegfried & Roy

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

Vargas commented: “Roy’s remarkable connection with wild animals has always seemed magical. But he was quick to remind us that in this relationship, joy is coupled with danger: ‘You can’t take nothing for granted even if you think you know it all,’ he said.”

Then came that Friday night performance in October 2003 when something, still unknown, went wrong, and Montecore dragged Roy off-stage while holding him by the neck. With Roy in critical condition, he was rushed to University Medical Center, where Dr. Jay Coates was the first surgeon to treat him.

“Roy came in and flat lined, died on the table,” he told 20/20. The special will detail the devastating injuries of his stroke, his partial paralysis and visual problems in one eye.

But “with the will of a thousand men,”’ as longtime manager Bernie Yuman always describes it, Roy fought to live again and began his amazing and inspirational five-year-long recovery. Tonight, Siegfried & Roy will watch the broadcast privately with a small gathering of friends along with Larry Ruvo’s board of directors for Keep Memory Alive.

Elizabeth Vargas reports: “Roy is still suffering from catastrophic injuries. He walked through death’s door. He has made astonishing progress. All the magic tricks in the world can’t cover the fact that Roy did die technically. Our viewers will see Siegfried & Roy in triumph over tragedy.”

Roy has the last word on 20/20: “My doctors have told me that in another year, I will be back to the way I was. That’s the next challenge.”

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