Las Vegas Sun

October 24, 2014

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Roy Horn making strides

By John Katsilometes (c) 2005 LAS VEGAS SUN

Siegfried & Roy's career in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS SUN

Siegfried & Roy began entertaining in theaters and clubs in Europe in 1964, and first performed in Las Vegas in 1967, when they debuted as a specialty act at the Tropicana in the production show "Folies Bergere."

Beginning in 1970 they spent three years at the Stardust in "Lido de Paris," again as a specialty act.

In 1974 they began a four-year run in MGM Grand's "Hallelujah Hollywood." In 1978 they returned to the Stardust in "Lido" as a 30-minute act.

In 1981 Siegfried & Roy took on their first full-length show with "Beyond Belief" at the Frontier, which ran for seven years.

The duo signed with casino mogul Steve Wynn in 1988 and performed in a custom venue in the Ginza District of Tokyo as the Mirage was being built.

In 1990 they debuted at the Mirage in a 1,500-seat showroom. In 1996 they celebrated their 15,000th performance in Las Vegas, and also that year opened their Secret Garden at the Mirage.

In 2000 the International Magicians Society named Siegfried & Roy "Magicians of the Century."

In 2001 the duo signed a lifetime contract with the Mirage, where, up until October 2003, they would appear in 5,750 performances.

He can walk, unaided, short distances. He can move more easily with the help of a cane and he can talk. In fact, his voice fairly booms when he wants it to.

The grip of his right hand is noticeably firm -- as if to send a message. And if that is not clear enough, he speaks that message himself: "The magic is back."

So says Roy Horn, half of the legendary team of "Siegfried & Roy," who can be allowed to define that term. But today it's a different brand of magic, no longer creating illusions or making an elephant disappear. It's not working in concert with a 400-pound wild animal, or leading a showroom of fans into a world of fantasy.

It's walking from here to there. It's working out at a rehab facility for three hours a day, seven days a week. It's managing unrelenting pain, having recently "cleansed" your body of painkillers. It's inspiring others while motivating yourself. It's living a life of quality after narrowly escaping death.

In an exclusive interview with the Las Vegas Sun on Thursday at the Spanish Trails home of his longtime partner, Siegfried Fischbacher, Horn discussed his recovery from the incident that nearly killed him. On Oct. 3, 2003, Horn was seriously injured after being bitten on the neck and head by the white tiger Montecore and dragged from the stage during a performance at the Mirage.

Monday is both the anniversary of the incident and Horn's 61st birthday. By all accounts he has worked diligently to reach his current level of health. The results are apparent.

For Thursday's interview he walked on his own for 30 feet to get into position for photographs. More frequently he moved with a cane, and was occasionally steadied by the duo's longtime manager, Bernie Yuman, and Siegfried & Roy Enterprises coordinator Lynette Chappell.

But the signs of the incident are still present. A thin white scar cuts across the right side of Horn's neck, vanishing under his shirt collar. His left side is still partially paralyzed and his walk, while improving, is still a slow shuffle.

But Horn is quick to respond; when asked how he was feeling he shot back, "Splendid!" When asked if he planned on returning to show business in a full-time capacity, his jaw tightened as he said, "I never left -- I never left."

It was in conversation that Horn appeared most comfortable. He spoke willingly, if haltingly, of his most recent health episode, which was to rid his system of painkillers on a visit to the Leonardis Clinic in the southern German city of Bad Heilbrunn.

Initial reports in June were that Horn was entering the facility to undergo stem-cell treatment. The German newspaper Bild (the nation's largest) reported that he was undergoing experimental treatment by a doctor who uses stem cells from pig embryos to stimulate and repair damaged nerve cells.

"The reason I went to Germany was because I was getting too much pain medication here and I needed to totally cleanse my body," he said. "(It is) almost like when you are going into rehab for drugs. So they totally cleansed me. (Now) I am totally perfect. I'm clean. I could do the show again tomorrow, that's how good I feel."

Managing that pain, which Horn says travels throughout his body, is not easy.

"I meditate a lot, but I am constantly in pain," he said. "I'm trying to live with this. You just have to accept it."

Horn said that he might soon return to Germany for rehabilitation treatment for his injuries, although the specialist who was treating him, Dr. Albert Scheller, died on Aug. 29 at the Mirage of heart disease.

"I was very saddened by it, deeply saddened," Horn said of Scheller's death. "But the clinic is still there. It's still in Germany. I plan to maybe go back this fall."

Horn described his rehabilitation schedule, which would be a demanding regimen even for a fully healthy individual. Much of his workout time is spent at the Nevada Community Enrichment Program facility on the Community College of Southern Nevada campus on West Charleston Boulevard.

It is in the 32,000-square-foot facility where Horn does his most intensive work. The nonprofit program, which employs 15 full-time licensed health care professionals, specializes in treating patients who have suffered strokes or brain injuries.

A continued rehabilitation program is crucial to their recovery, and Horn says he considers that work his new career.

"I walk every night, a quarter of a mile. Every night," he said. "I walk every day for three hours in the rehab. I walk three miles on the treadmill, when I am in therapy. Seven days a week for three hours, is what I do."

While performing with Fischbacher, Horn worked regularly for nearly 40 years, often for 48 weeks per year. But today he says he's working harder than ever.

"Yes. I am stubborn. I am German," he says with a laugh. "I work harder now. I have a goal."

Which is to be able to walk without assistance.

"It will be soon," he said. "I will surprise everybody when I do it. I like surprises."

To ward off depression and to lift his spirits, Horn finds solace in his animals, from Siegfried, and from motivating others.

"I get comfort from my animals. I go to the Secret Garden once a week and visit all my animals, at the Mirage," he said. "It is a comfort zone."

That group of animals includes Montecore, who lives at the Secret Garden. As Yuman noted, Horn regularly visits all the animals --including Montecore -- and "six or eight" weeks ago Siegfried and Roy posed with three of their tigers for a photo to be published in an upcoming edition of Vogue. Montecore is one of those tigers.

Fischbacher is a regular at Horn's rehab sessions.

"He is very understanding of my condition," Horn said. "He helps me every day to do my exercises. He comes to the rehab every day to check on me ... Siegfried told me once, 'The one who is a hero is the one who can hang on just one minute longer.' "

Today, Horn says he gets as much fulfillment from helping improve a single life as he does entertaining a showroom of fans at the Mirage.

"Each one, by itself, is stimulating," he said.

The duo's fans remain important to Horn, who is still recognized even while wearing a hat and sunglasses in the most remote outposts of Germany.

"We need our fans. They are the ones who put us here, every one of them," Horn said.

During rehab Horn has learned he can touch lives on a one-on-one basis, too. He speaks of a teenage boy at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo., who was injured in a rodeo accident. (On the advice of Christopher Reeve, Horn was admitted to the renowned spinal-cord and brain-trauma treatment hospital in August 2004.)

"I met many young people, particularly a young man who was kicked by a horse in the head. He didn't speak anymore, wouldn't play, wouldn't do anything anymore. He was only in a wheelchair," Horn said. "So I came in and spent a lot of time with him. Later on I went sailing with him, and it was a wonderful experience. After that he started to speak again and was part of life again."

At the Nevada Community Enrichment Program facility Horn is known to give Ricola herbal tablets to fellow patients ("I should have stock in Ricola," he jokes). One of those patients is 15-year-old Tyler Pinegar. In July 2003 Pinegar was nearly killed when he slipped and fell off a cliff while camping with a Boy Scout troop at Lake Arrowhead, Calif.

"He was very bad about doing his homework -- after the accident he did not want to do anything anymore," Horn said. "But his father said after he met me, he was given so much power and is feeling totally different. He saw me walking and wanted to do the same."

At that story, Horn paused and recalled the night he nearly died.

"In all reality I died two times," Horn said, reprising a story he told Maria Shriver in September 2004 during an NBC special. "But I came back. I am too strong, like a good cat -- but I only have seven lives left (laughs) ... After I died the second time, I saw bright lights. I saw my mom sitting on the end of the roadway. I saw all my animals before me. I saw my brother who had passed on many years ago. He was sitting right next to my mom. So you do see everybody once again; it's like a greeting room.

"I walked past everybody ... I turned around and went back to my body, and I opened my eyes and saw a doctor with a scalpel standing over me and cutting me up."

As Horn reasons, "They were not ready for me. They were not ready for me to do the show upstairs. Not yet."

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