Las Vegas Sun

July 31, 2014

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Siegfried & Roy are symbolic of Vegas

When they think of Las Vegas, many envision the neon-lit Strip and glowing marquee names: Elvis, Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Wayne Newton, Liberace and Siegfried & Roy.

Among headliners, Siegfried & Roy hold a special place in Las Vegas history as the first to push the size and scope of a production on the Strip with their show at the Mirage, which mixes magic with the famed white tigers.

More than that, the entertainers became symbolic of Las Vegas.

"Siegfried & Roy are Las Vegas institutions who have been instrumental in making the city what it is today," Las Vegas resident and tennis legend Andre Agassi told the Sun on Saturday at his Grand Slam charity event. "To the rest of the world, they are the face of Las Vegas and their growth and fame has paralleled the rise of Las Vegas as a world-class city."

The duo's future is uncertain after a white tiger named Montecore mauled Roy Horn during a show Friday. The production has been indefinitely suspended. Horn is at University Medical Center in critical condition.

"It is not only a tragedy for them on a personal level, but for every Las Vegas resident," Agassi said. "To say (wife and German women's tennis star) Steffi (Graf) and I were saddened doesn't even begin to describe the depth of our feeling."

Siegfried & Roy have earned their place in local pop culture and local entertainment and gaming history, a local historian says.

"For many visitors, Siegfried & Roy are a key part of the Las Vegas experience," said Michael Green, professor of history at Community College of Southern Nevada.

"People do not come here just to see Siegfried & Roy -- they come for a variety of reasons. And if they are not here to see them perform, visitors certainly know about Siegfried & Roy in a way that they do not know about other shows and performers."

As for entertainment history, their place is significant and assured.

"When we think of Las Vegas we think of the Rat Pack and other headliners such as Wayne Newton, but Siegfried & Roy are the first production show performers to break out and become headliners (in Beyond Belief at the Frontier in 1981)," Green said.

"They became bigger than the production show -- a show in themselves. There have been other magicians who have performed on the Strip, but Siegfried & Roy are the Babe Ruth of their field in Las Vegas."

Green said the pair's historic significance also is tied to gaming in that Steve Wynn hired them before he opened the Mirage in 1990, signing them to a $57.5 million contract for five years.

"Wynn was taking a chance building the first major casino on the Strip since the MGM Grand (now Bally's) in 1973," Green said. "Wynn is credited with taking a big risk, but Siegfried & Roy also took a risk on their future by casting their lot with Wynn.

"And they are responsible for raising the bar on the price of showroom tickets in Las Vegas."

Las Vegans, visitors and people from around the world were expressing their grief. Fellow entertainers at Agassi's event paid tribute.

"I was stunned when I heard about it," singer Billy Joel said. "What can I say? Las Vegas is Siegfried & Roy and Siegfried & Roy is Las Vegas. It is a terrible, terrible thing to happen."

Actor and comedian Robin Williams noted that some people make fun of the show, but said it was done "out of a professional respect and affection for them."

"They have been a big part of the growth of Las Vegas," he said. "They are two of the hardest-working men in the entertainment business."

Veteran Strip entertainer Robert Goulet said he and his wife went to the Celine Dion show Friday night and heard about the incident backstage.

"I just can't believe it, I'm devastated," Goulet said. "(Horn) was so close to those animals, they were like his children, his brothers, his uncles, his saviors."

Goulet, who said he had seen the show many times, said if Roy couldn't make a comeback it would be a "loss to the city and to all the fans and the people who have never seen them and now may not have the chance to see them if he can't come back."

Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn met on in 1957 and created an act that would land in Las Vegas a decade later. They have endured when other entertainers have come and gone.

Together with their signature white tigers and white lions, Siegfried & Roy have had not only one of the most popular shows in town, but one of the most expensive, at $110 a seat, and one of the most technologically advanced.

More than 25 million people have seen the pair perform.

Michael Austin Stewart of Tacoma, Wash., said he saw a Siegfried & Roy performance during a previous visit to Las Vegas and loved it.

"It's one of the longest-running shows in Vegas. Everyone knows the tigers, everyone knows their faces," he said Friday. "Part of the tension of the show is that they're dealing with animals that have a proclivity for chewing on humans."

Talk on the Strip on Sunday was about the impact of Siegfried & Roy. "It will be really devastating if Roy doesn't pull through," Ben Lennings of Phoenix said at the Mirage. "They are Vegas icons; they're in movies and even impersonated on 'Saturday Night Live.' That's pretty big, you know. I mean, look at the huge sign outside and the statue, the pictures everywhere. They hold the key to the Mirage. Losing them would be a big loss to the city."

Amanda Muller of Colorado said the city would not be the same without the duo. "You can't go 10 feet through this city without seeing their picture or hearing their name," she said. "They are Vegas. When you think of Vegas two things come to mind: Wayne Newton and Siegfried & Roy. Losing either would be incredibly sad."

Pat Scragg of Manchester, England, said, "They're synonymous with Las Vegas. It's just dreadful, really."

The pair met while working on a cruise ship -- Siegfried Fischbacher as a magician and Roy Horn as a steward.

Roy soon became Siegfried's assistant and suggested to Siegfried that they incorporate into the act Roy's pet cheetah. They made the animal disappear.

The act toured Germany, Switzerland and other European countries for five years and became a hit at the casino at Monte Carlo in the principality of Monaco. There an agent in the audience booked the pair for their first Las Vegas gig at the Tropicana hotel-casino's "Folies Bergere" in 1967.

Siegfried & Roy, who became naturalized U.S. citizens, returned to Las Vegas in 1974 in Donn Arden's "Hallelujah, Hollywood" at the old MGM Grand which today is Bally's. The pair moved in 1978 to the Stardust's "Lido de Paris," which also was an Arden production.

They opened their own "Beyond Belief" show in 1981 at the Frontier, and went on to gather several awards, including Las Vegas Entertainers of the Year, the American Academy of Magical Arts' Magicians of the Year and West Germany's Cross of the Order of Merit.

Siegfried & Roy opened their $30 million showroom at the Mirage in February 1990, after then-Mirage owner Steve Wynn offered them a $57 million-plus contract for five years. In 2001 the Mirage's new owners, MGM MIRAGE, gave Siegfried & Roy a lifetime contract to perform at the resort.

There have been more than 5,600 performances of the show in the 1,500-seat venue -- all sellouts. They perform 46 weeks per year, doing six shows each week.

Only Newton, who arrived in Las Vegas in 1959 to perform in a lounge at the Fremont hotel-casino and began headlining in the mid-'60s at the Flamingo, rivals Siegfried & Roy in longevity as headliners.

By 1994 Siegfried & Roy were at the top of their game, not only doing their Las Vegas act, but also working on a made-for-television movie and other projects. In November of that year, while Horn was recovering from knee surgery, the television show, "Siegfried & Roy, The Magic ... The Mystery," aired on ABC.

In May 1995 Siegfried & Roy received the second annual Liberace Legend Award at a party to raise money for the Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts, which provides scholarships to young talent.

It was a special honor because the famed pianist had encouraged the pair to believe in themselves when they were trying to break into the tough entertainment scene in Las Vegas.

Horn said Liberace, who died Feb. 4, 1987, after being one of Las Vegas' top entertainers for four decades, "gave encouragement to even the smallest of us. ... He was a great ... one of the last of a grand, grand era."

In 1992 Siegfried & Roy received the Bambi award in Germany, honoring them as entertainers of the decade. In January 1996 the duo performed their 15,000th live show in Las Vegas and surpassed the local attendance mark of 20 million.

The duo recently agreed to an animated television show, called "Father of the Pride," which is in production. The show is about the white tigers who are part of the show. The show is expected to air next year. Its future was immediately unclear.

Sun staff members Jennifer Knight, Jennifer Lawson, Tim McDarrah and Heather Rawlyk contributed to this report.

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