Roy Horn, Who Dazzled Audiences as Half of Siegfried & Roy, Dies at 75
Roy Horn, Who Dazzled Audiences as Half of Siegfried & Roy, Dies at 75
This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
Roy Horn, who levitated tigers, made elephants disappear, turned himself into a python and mesmerized Las Vegas audiences for decades as half of the famed illusionist team Siegfried & Roy, died on Friday in Las Vegas. He was 75.
The cause was complications of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to his publicist, Dave Kirvin. Mr. Horn, who lived in Las Vegas, tested positive for the virus last week and died at MountainView Hospital, Mr. Kirvin said.
The German-born Mr. Horn and Siegfried Fischbacher’s long-running production, one of the most successful in Las Vegas history, ended on Oct. 3, 2003, when Mr. Horn, on his 59th birthday, was mauled by a 400-pound white tiger that lunged at his throat and dragged him offstage before a stunned capacity crowd of 1,500 at MGM’s Mirage hotel and casino.
An aide yanked the tiger’s tail, leapt on its back and tried to pry open its jaws. Another sprayed it with a fire extinguisher until it let go. But Mr. Horn’s windpipe had been crushed, and an artery carrying oxygen to his brain was damaged. He suffered a stroke and partial paralysis on his left side, underwent two operations at University Medical Center in Las Vegas and was placed on life support.
After weeks in critical condition, however, Mr. Horn began a long recovery, with rehabilitation at the U.C.L.A. Medical Center in Los Angeles. In 2004 he returned to his home in Las Vegas, and within months he was walking again with assistance. There was even talk of a comeback, but medical experts and entertainment moguls considered it highly unlikely.
In February 2009, Siegfried and Roy made one final appearance with a tiger, a benefit performance for the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. They officially retired from show business in 2010.
A Sorcerer’s Extravaganza
Mr. Horn and Mr. Fischbacher dazzled Las Vegas crowds for 35 years with a sorcerer’s extravaganza that combined the glitz of sequined costumes and feathered headdresses with smoke-and-laser magic and the circus thrills of exotic animals, including rare white tigers and white lions. Under their spells, a white tiger turned into a beautiful woman, a six-ton elephant vanished, a tiger floated out over the audience, and Mr. Horn slithered down and became a snake.
“The world has lost one of the greats of magic, but I have lost my best friend,” Mr. Fischbacher said in a statement on Friday. “From the moment we met, I knew Roy and I, together, would change the world. There could be no Siegfried without Roy, and no Roy without Siegfried.”
The two showmen performed in Europe, Japan and elsewhere. They were featured in a 1999 3-D Imax movie and a 1994 television special and appeared at Radio City Music Hall in New York. They broke records for the longest-running act in Las Vegas and were among the most popular and highly paid performers on the Strip. They also wrote a book, “Siegfried and Roy: Mastering the Impossible” (1992).
Mr. Horn and Mr. Fischbacher, who were domestic as well as professional partners, kept their menageries, including dozens of exotic cats, at a glass-enclosed tropically forested habitat at the Mirage; at Jungle Paradise, their 88-acre estate outside town; and at Jungle Palace, their $10 million Spanish-style home in Las Vegas.
Acknowledging that their acts depended on some endangered species, they were prominent in various animal conservation efforts, particularly for the white tiger, native to Asia, and the white lion of Timbavati, in South Africa. They raised many of their show animals from birth, and they said the animals were not exploited and were never tranquilized.
Mr. Horn insisted that the white tiger that mauled him — a 7-year-old male who had been acquired in Mexico, trained by Mr. Horn and used in performances for six and a half years — not be harmed afterward. The tiger was quarantined for a time, then returned to its habitat at the Mirage, where many of the act’s animals were kept on display after the show ended. The tiger’s name was reported to be Montecore at the time of the mauling, but it was given by Mr. Horn as Mantecore when the animal died in 2014 after a short illness.
In the years after the mauling, Mr. Horn and Mr. Fischbacher tried to minimize what was widely reported as a ferocious attack. They said the tiger had been unhinged by a woman in the front row with a beehive hairdo and the sight of Mr. Horn tripping as he tried to step between them, and that the tiger had picked Mr. Horn up by the neck, as a tigress might a cub, and was attempting to carry him to safety.
That and other theories — suggesting a provocation by animal-rights activists or an act of economic terrorism against Las Vegas — were investigated by the police and federal officials. A comprehensive report by the United States Department of Agriculture discounted all such theories and called it a simple attack by the tiger. But the department amended its safety regulations for the live exhibition of big cats to stipulate minimal distances and barriers between animals and the viewing public.
Investigators quoted witnesses as saying that Mr. Horn had ordered the tiger to lie down, and that when it refused he hit it on the nose with his microphone. The tiger then snagged his forearm, and when Mr. Horn tried to beat it back with the microphone, it lunged at his throat and dragged him off like a rag doll.
The cancellation of Siegfried & Roy after the mauling left 267 cast members and employees out of work, prompted refunds for shows booked months in advance and led to millions in losses for the Mirage, which had been selling out the show’s performances for more than 13 years. With ticket prices of $110, the show, performed six times weekly for 45 weeks a year, brought in about $44 million annually to the Mirage.
“Throughout the history of Las Vegas, no artists have meant more to the development of Las Vegas’s global reputation as the entertainment capital of the world than Siegfried and Roy,” J. Terrence Lanni, who was the chairman of MGM Mirage, said after the attack. “They are so much more than the stars of the Mirage. They are the very heart of our resort.”
How It All Began
Roy Uwe Ludwig Horn was born on Oct. 3, 1944, in Nordenham, Germany, near Bremen. Like Mr. Fischbacher, who was five years older and raised in Rosenheim, a village in Bavaria, Mr. Horn grew up in the turmoil of wartime and postwar Germany. While Mr. Fischbacher was drawn to magic, Mr. Horn was taken with animals, including his wolfdog Hexe, and a cheetah, Chico, at a zoo in Bremen where the boy took an after-school job feeding animals and cleaning cages.
It was a chance meeting in 1957, when both were working on a German cruise ship, that led to their partnership. Mr. Fischbacher, a steward, was entertaining passengers with magic tricks, and Mr. Horn, a cabin boy, caught his act.
“I told Siegfried if he could make rabbits come out of a hat, why couldn’t he make cheetahs appear?” Mr. Horn recalled. He said he smuggled Chico out of the zoo and aboard the ship in a laundry bag. The new trick, he said, was a hit with passengers.
They formed a partnership in 1959. By 1964, Mr. Horn and Mr. Fischbacher, still with Chico, were on the road, performing in cabarets and theaters in Germany and Switzerland. The results were mixed — Chico ate steak, the men potatoes — until Princess Grace of Monaco saw them at a 1966 charity benefit in Monte Carlo and gave them a rave notice.
A rush of publicity ensued. Adding animals and tricks, they were soon playing nightclubs in Paris and other European cities. They made their Las Vegas debut at the Tropicana in 1967, and by the early 1970s, having made Las Vegas their base, were under contract at the MGM Grand. In 1981, they became the main act at the Frontier Hotel; in seven years there, they performed before three million people.
In 1987, they signed a five-year, $57.5 million contract with Steve Wynn, owner of the planned $640 million Mirage casino-hotel — a deal Variety called the largest in show business history. It included $40 million more for a new theater for the show and an $18 million “Secret Garden” hotel habitat for the animals.
While the hotel was being built, the show went on a 10-month tour of Japan, where patrons paid up to $300 a ticket. And in 1989, Siegfried & Roy performed 32 shows over four weeks before packed houses at Radio City Music Hall in New York. By then, they had added more handlers and assistants and scores of exotic animals, including white tigers, lions, panthers, elephants and pythons.
Opening night at the Mirage in 1990 marked the show’s 10,000th performance in Las Vegas. In the ensuing years there were thousands of shows, which took in hundreds of millions of dollars. In 2001, after 20 years of sold-out performances, Mr. Horn and Mr. Fischbacher signed lifetime contracts to work at the Mirage.
A 1994 ABC television special, “Siegfried & Roy: The Magic, the Mystery,” showed part of their act, but focused on the performers at home and interacting with animals. The 1999 Imax film “Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Box” detailed the men’s partnership and featured 3-D shots in which tigers and lions seemed to leap into the audience.
Animal rights activists generally oppose using wild animals in shows, but few ever accused Siegfried & Roy of mistreating animals. Mr. Horn said theirs were exercised daily by handlers, fed special diets and even had their teeth brushed three times a month. He draped big cats around his neck for photographers and was seen cuddling and petting animals. He called his training methods “affection conditioning.”
The men shared their home with tigers, jaguars, mastiffs and other creatures that often roamed their compound freely. Mr. Horn said he slept with a tiger or a leopard every night. He said he and Mr. Fischbacher kept separate quarters and took separate vacations. Mr. Horn’s mother, Johanna, also lived at their home for many years until her death in 2000.
In addition to Mr. Fischbacher, Mr. Horn is survived by a brother, Werner Horn.
Conservation had been on Mr. Horn’s agenda for decades. In 1982, he and Mr. Fischbacher obtained their first three white tiger cubs from the Cincinnati Zoo, an important breeding site for white tigers at that time. Over the years the partners multiplied their brood tenfold. They eventually owned 10 percent of the world’s white tigers.
White tigers, which have blue eyes and are larger than orange tigers, possess a recessive genetic property that creates a virtual absence of orange pigment in the fur, though most have dark stripes. Another genetic condition renders the stripes pale, producing an almost snow-white coat. White tigers are extremely rare in the wild; several hundred are in captivity, about 100 of them in India. Nearly all are descendants of a white cub found by the Maharajah of Rewa in India in 1951.
In 1995, Mr. Horn and Mr. Fischbacher obtained two white lion cubs from the Johannesburg Zoological Society in South Africa. Only five white lions were known to exist then. Dr. Patrick Condy of the zoological society later told Cats magazine that breeding efforts by the two men “virtually guarantee the white lions of Timbavati will not only continue to exist, but flourish.”
Michael Levenson contributed reporting.