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December 19, 2014

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Top Cats: Siegfried & Roy, MGM MIRAGE agree to lifetime contract

They are Las Vegas history.

But are they history in Las Vegas?

Siegfried & Roy say, "Nein."

The superstar illusionists, synonymous with Strip glitz for more than three decades, will formally unveil a new lifetime contract with the Mirage at a splashy fete at the Siegfried & Roy Theatre on Monday night.

"We're proud to be associated with an organization like (MGM) Mirage. The Mirage is our home, and our show at the Mirage fulfills our destiny," said Roy Uwe Ludwig Horn, the black-maned half of the famed illusion duo. "We never thought of quitting, only ways to do more."

Such comments, even when passed on through 25-year publicist Bernie Yuman, are cause for relief to S&R's worldwide following. The pair have been the focus of unwelcome speculation of late that the magic might be ebbing, primarily after they uncharacteristically were forced to cancel more than 20 performances recently an unheard-of development for the notorious workhorses.

The reason given was that the 61-year-old Siegfried (last name, for the record: Fishbachler) had fallen ill with an acute case of the flu.

However, rumors persisted in Las Vegas entertainment circles that it was the 56-year-old Roy, not Siegfried, who was not well and in fact had contracted HIV.

Yuman was fast with a response.

"I don't even want to dignify that," he said. "I'd like to be as healthy as these guys with doing what they do. It's like a professional football player having to play a game every day, and they only do it on Sunday," he said. "You can't be in anything other than perfect health to do what these guys do. What happened is Siegfried had the flu, and if you've ever had that type of flu it knocks you down. But we've been up and running for two weeks without missing a show."

The new contract should quell some of the unflattering speculation. The deal, chiefly a grandiose way for MGM MIRAGE to express its appreciation to the money-generating act, means S&R will be bound to Mirage at least through 2004 and will effectively end their career there when they choose to retire. They will perform eight shows a week, 44 weeks per year.

The terms of the deal indicate the German-born S&R are showing no signs of slowing down.

"All the hard work makes it seem very real," Siegfried said. "People love the show because the message is timeless. As magicians it is ultimately gratifying to help restore people's belief in their dreams."

The dream has been quite real for the duo since first performing on the Strip in 1974. By the time S&R began a hugely successful run at the Frontier in 1981, it was apparent the duo reached the peak of Las Vegas entertainment.

"In November of 1981 they did what I believe is the first family show in Las Vegas history at the Frontier," Yuman said. "At the time young people from Europe were saving money all summer to see shows in Las Vegas and were being turned away at the door because they were underage. But that changed with Siegfried & Roy. It was the beginning of big-time family entertainment in the city."

The ceaselessly verbose Yuman rarely speaks of S&R without linking the pair to Las Vegas.

"They are ambassadors for Las Vegas wherever they go," Yuman said. "They changed the face of entertainment in Las Vegas and are changing even as the city changes. Forty percent of the show they'll do (Monday night) will be new. They have an insatiable desire to grow with the city, and people who visit Las Vegas must see Siegfried & Roy."

Profits have matched the success. No one can seem to recall the last time S&R failed to sell out in Las Vegas; Yuman says he hasn't experienced an empty seat in his 25 years. S&R have performed approximately 5,000 shows for 10 million fans (one, Wisconsin businessman Fred Wald, has attended more than 500 performances) and have grossed more than $1 billion.

Honored as the Magicians of the Century by the International Magicians Society, S&R have made more money than any other performer or act ever has in Las Vegas, and the show's $100.50 ticket price is surpassed only by "O" as the highest in the city.

But the performers say the act is about far more than making consumers' money disappear.

"I had a dream, one that still drives me, to preserve for future generations our endangered white tigers and white lions," said Roy, who helps care for 58 tigers and 19 lions.

Siegfried has embraced the freedom the show has afforded him.

"As soon as we arrived in Las Vegas, the truth was clear," Siegfried said. "In Europe there would always be a limit to what we could do. They showed us the borders. In America, they showed us that we could do anything ... America has come with much risk."

In promoting a flamboyant, surreal show and image, both performers continually deal with bizarre speculation -- much stranger fodder than the Roy-has-AIDS talk. Over the past few years Yuman has been asked if Roy has passed away and been replaced by a double.

"They are two of the most famous live entertainers in the world, and people fabricate stories about them," Yuman said. "Let me ask you this: If you had a Doberman you had owned and trained from 4 weeks old to 4 years old, and you suddenly died and were replaced by a twin brother to care for this animal, what would happen?

"The Doberman would bite your butt off, that's what. There's only one man on Earth who can handle an 800-pound cat and that's Roy Uwe Ludwig Horn."

Roy is unfazed by such speculation.

"Risk, pride, passion and effort are the keys to achieving success. Pain is irrelevant when it comes to achieving your goals," he said. "For me today is tomorrow, and tomorrow is forever."

The duo have ensured their influence on the Strip will last long after they've hung up their codpieces. They have agreed to represent up-and-comer Darren Romeo, "The Voice of Magic," who is attempting to reach the same audience clamoring for S&R tickets.

But the duo remains a superlative live act. Intrigue in the show is as strong as ever, reflected in such super-celebrity visitors ranging from Barbra Streisand to Walter Cronkite, from Mick Jagger to Colin Powell. S&R are featured in a lengthy story in this week's Sports Illustrated (the high-selling annual swimsuit issue), continuing to break new ground in their effort to bond with the masses.

The pair continue to speak in mystical terms while remaining ahead of the field in a fiercely competitive Strip entertainment environment.

"If you stop dreaming, you stop living," Roy said. "We are still dreaming."

John Katsilometes

is the Sun features editor. Reach him at [email protected] or 259-2327.

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