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Remembering The Magic

Siegfried Fischbacher’s death conjures images of how he and partner Roy Horn changed Las Vegas entertainment

By Frank Legato

Las Vegas theaters may still be largely empty because of the coronavirus, but on the evening of January 14, the marquees in the front of Las Vegas Strip resorts all shone brightly with images of a man familiar to most Vegas visitors—Siegfried Fischbacher, half of the legendary magician act Siegfried & Roy.

Fischbacher, 81, had died the prior evening, only nine months after longtime partner Roy Horn had succumbed to complications of the coronavirus at age 75, and 16 years after their legendary act at the Mirage ended suddenly when Horn was severely injured onstage by one of his beloved white tigers.

But last month, the Las Vegas Strip tributes recalled memories of 22 years on stage in Las Vegas, nine years at the New Frontier with the Beyond Belief show before moving their act to Steve Wynn’s brand-new Mirage hotel in 1990. Siegfried & Roy changed Las Vegas entertainment. Before the German-born entertainers dominated the Strip, headline entertainment filled Strip showrooms that were designed not as a revenue-generator in themselves, but as a means to reward the highest of high rollers.

Fischbacher and Horn replaced tuxedoed singers and comics with the art of the spectacle—a spectacle of huge white tigers appearing and disappearing, and aiding the duo in an array of amazing illusions punctuated by smoke, flashing lights and the gasps of amazed spectators.

Fischbacher, born in Germany in 1939, met Horn while performing on a cruise ship under the stage name Delmare in 1957. Fischbacher invited Horn to assist him in an illusion, and the two became an act from then on. They were fired from the cruise line for bringing a cheetah onboard the ship.

But their unique act caught the attention of another cruise line, and the duo began a long run together that included cruise lines, New York theaters, and eventually, Las Vegas. When Steve Wynn launched the Mirage in 1989, he wanted an act that was as unique as the resort itself, and lured them away from the New Frontier with the promise of their own theater and what was to be a permanent residence.

The Beyond Belief show became, simply, Siegfried & Roy at the Mirage, and from its opening night of February 1, 1990, until a fateful night in October 2003, it was the hottest ticket in Las Vegas. Fischbacher and Horn became an integral part of the Mirage, which cashed in not only on the performances, but the draw of the habitat Wynn created on the property for the duo’s white tigers.

And the Siegfried & Roy Theater would ultimately change the way Las Vegas Strip casinos presented entertainment. Before the Mirage, Las Vegas showrooms used a cookie-cutter design— comped high rollers in horseshoe-shape booths near the stage, general admission in straight lines of tables with views frequently obstructed, better seats possible only with the slip of a large bill to the maître d.

The Siegfried & Roy Theater was styled more along the lines of Broadway theaters, with every seat offering a decent view of the stage. Ticket purchasers were shown maps with prices displayed, and were given the option of buying the best seats they could afford.

In other words, the way most Las Vegas shows operate today.

The duo’s legendary Las Vegas run ended October 3, 2003, when Horn was attacked onstage by the act’s 400- pound white Bengal tiger, named Montecore. Horn collapsed after the tiger bit his arm, but in an act he subsequently insisted was an effort to protect him, Montecore carried the performer offstage by the neck. The attack severed Horn’s spine and effectively ended the act.

But the end of the Siegfried & Roy show did not end the legacy of the performers. The tiger habitat has remained at the Mirage to this day, a constant reminder of how Fischbacher helped to change Las Vegas. Wynn added a dolphin habitat to the area, which remains a hit with guests at the Mirage.

When Horn died last year, Fischbacher said, “The world has lost one of the greats of magic, but I have lost my best friend. 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.”

Helped along by the visionary Wynn, Las Vegas today would not be what it is without Fischbacher and Horn.

The bright marquees last month punctuated that thought.

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