Madonna, Britney, Hillary, Elvis, Kobe. There are some people who the whole world seems to know on a first name basis. Siegfried Fischbacher is one of those people.
Best known as part of the famed duo Siegfreid and Roy, Mr. Fischbacher first met his partner Roy Horn in 1959 when they were both workers on a German ocean liner: Siegfried as a 20-year-old cabin steward and Roy as a 15-year-old waiter. But the German-born cruise-hands weren’t your typical employees. Siegfried, a traditional magician/illusionist, began performing magic for some of the passengers, and was later allowed to have his own show with Roy as his assistant.
And in the kind of genius stroke you’d expect from a high school sophomore, Roy decided to commemorate his big break into showbiz by smuggling a freaking cheetah onto the ship! Roy, who had a history with exotic animals, had “come to know” Chico the cheetah during his frequent trips to Germany’s Bremer Zoo.
Just your average teen service employee slash animal lover capturing a carnivorous zoo animal and smuggling it onto a manned ocean liner. Seems normal.
Apparently someone wanted to really lay it on thick that the sixties were a very different time period, so instead of firing Roy or, you know, arresting him for about a dozen things, they decided to give Siegfried and Roy their own show. The duo then moved to Las Vegas, bought a residence together, and were given a regular engagement in Sin City. Because there’s no box for “Rejected due to cheetah smuggling” on immigration forms, Siegfried and Roy became naturalized citizens and in 1972 were voted show of the year.
Their huge break, though, came in 1990, when Steve Wynn – the developer of The Mirage, a brand spankin’ new resort and casino – signed the duo to a $57.5 million guaranteed annual contract. They became an inseparable part of the Mirage brand, and in 2000, were the 9th-highest-paid celebrities in the U.S., just behind Steven Spielberg.
They continued to build on their success, earning a spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2001, were given a lifetime contract with the hotel. Unfortunately, after 5,750 shows together, their act came to an end on Roy’s 59th birthday (October 3, 2003) due to a life-threatening injury.
According to Wynn, and substantiated by Siegfried, a woman with a “big hairdo” in the front row “fascinated and distracted” a white tiger named Montecore who had performed with the duo for many years. When she reached out to pet Montecore, Roy stepped between them, and Montecore grabbed Horn’s arm. Horn tripped and Montecore grabbed Horn’s neck to try to bring him to safety, not realizing Roy didn’t have the thick neck skin that tigers have. As Roy was rushed to Nevada’s University Medical Center to treat his critical injuries, which included partial paralysis and severe blood loss, he told people “Montecore is a good cat. Make sure no harm comes to Montecore.”
That hairdo ended up being costly, as the show was closed after the attack, 267 cast members were laid off, and The Mirage experienced untold millions of losses in ticket sales and casino money.
The story ends happily, however. Roy believes he’d actually had a stroke that led to his tripping, and credited the seven-year-old cat for dragging him to safety. Though the show closed after the attack, Roy regained his ability to speak and walk, thanks in large part to the assistance of his friend and roommate (for five decades) Siegfried Fischbacher. Siegfried and Roy returned to do a final series of shows, including a 2009 performance with Montecore, now 12-years-old. In 2010, Siegfried and Roy performed their final show, with their manager calling it “the dot at the end of the sentence.”
Though their show is over, their pop culture influence is long-lasting. The Simpsons lampooned Siegfried and Roy, and raising questions about the true nature of their relationship. The Michael Jackson song “Mind is the Magic,” is about the duo as well. In 1997, a South African College of Magic established a Siegfried and Roy grant to help provide disadvantaged youngsters the opportunity to pursue careers in the world of magic. Pretty darn snazzy if you ask me!