Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009 | 12:01 a.m.
More than five years after last appearing onstage at The Mirage, Siegfried & Roy are in rehearsals for their much-anticipated reunion and farewell performance.
An official announcement is expected that the legendary illusionists will appear in a special hourlong, prime-time installment of the ABC News program “20/20,” to be recorded live at the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute’s Keep Memory Alive “Power of Love” benefit gala, scheduled for Feb. 28 at the Bellagio. The show will be broadcast at 9 p.m. Pacific time on March 6.
“We never got to say a proper goodbye,” Roy Horn said in an exclusive interview on his first tour of the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute on the Union Park development near downtown Las Vegas. “This will be our final bow and it will never be repeated.”
More than 900 well-heeled supporters and Hollywood stars will turn out for the gala, which will feature the legendary duo performing what is billed as, “A Moment of Magic.” Larry Ruvo, founding chairman of the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute and the head of Southern Wine & Sprits of Nevada, said, “I am thrilled ABC is going to share this unforgettable evening with the world. Having said that, only those in the audience that night will be able to say, ‘I was there.’ ”
ABC News anchor Elizabeth Vargas will be here over the next two weeks, filming interviews with the German-born magicians who have for decades called Las Vegas home. She will be talking with the magicians’ longtime manager, Bernie Yuman, and other Vegas VIPs such as Steve Wynn. It was Wynn who hired Siegfried & Roy away from the Frontier in 1990, and the duo performed 5,750 shows at The Mirage. The duo even signed a lifetime contract with the resort in 2001.
However, the show closed on Oct. 3, 2003, on Roy’s 59th birthday, when he was seriously injured onstage by the 7-year-old male tiger Montecore. Roy was bitten on the neck and suffered severe blood loss. Before collapsing in the ambulance en route to University Medical Center, Roy pleaded that no harm come to the tiger, and doctors told me he had “died three times on the operating table,” while fighting for his life during surgery. Candlelight prayer vigils were set up at the hospital as Roy fought to recover from partial paralysis caused by a stroke.
His rehabilitation included a procedure in which a quarter of his skull was removed to release the pressure from swelling in his brain. The segment removed was inserted into the lining of Roy’s stomach until it was reattached when he was moved to Los Angeles for long-term recovery.
“He has the strength of a thousand men,” Yuman told me. “He would never give up. His strength and courage are beyond all other men.”
It was at last year’s “Power of Love” gala that the two superstars promised publicly to make their one-time-only farewell appearance at this year’s fundraiser.
“When we give our word, we keep our promise,” Siegfried said.
The illusionists went into their warehouse to select the illusions they will perform Feb. 28.
“It has given Roy a whole new lease on life,” Siegfried said. “We're both incredibly excited about doing this one more last time.” (Tickets for the gala are available at the Keep Memory Alive Web site.)
In advance of the unique production, Siegfried & Roy visited the LRBI facility two weeks ago, with Ruvo leading the tour. What started as a 20-minute visit turned into a three-hour tour as the duo were dazzled by Frank Gehry’s vision of the medical center, the design of which represents the jumbled human brain. The steel for the center was shipped from Germany to Las Vegas.
“That’s a very special sign,” Siegfried said.
The LRBI groundbreaking at the 64-acre Union Park parcel was Feb. 9, 2007, and the projected completion is the middle of this year. Renowned neurologist Dr. Zaven Khachaturian heads up the medical team at the 67,000-square-foot institute, which will focus on the research and treatment of all brain disorders.
“We are in awe of the facility that has been created to serve our great community. We are delighted that our final performance can bring attention to the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute and the work that is being done here, because it is worthy of worldwide recognition.”