Corona Chronicles: Roy Horn of Siegfried & Roy Vegas Show, Dies at 75

May 8, 2020–Roy Horn, the showman who captivated the Las Vegas Strip as one-half of Siegfried & Roy, only to see his career end abruptly as the result of a horrible accident during a 2003 performance, died Friday in Las Vegas of complications from COVID-19. He was 75.

 

“Today, the world has lost one of the greats of magic, but I have lost my best friend,” his partner, Siegfried Fischbacher, said in a statement.

“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. Roy was a fighter his whole life including during these final days. I give my heartfelt appreciation to the team of doctors, nurses and staff at Mountain View Hospital who worked heroically against this insidious virus that ultimately took Roy’s life.”

With its breathtaking theatrics — which included extravagant costumes and sets, pulsating lighting, pyrotechnics and feats of illusion — a Siegfried & Roy magic act at The Mirage was one of the most dazzling live performances ever produced, epitomizing the glitz and glamour of the city. They were headliners at the hotel for more than 13 years.

But what made their show a must-see event were the tigers and lions that Fischbacher — Horn’s partner in life as well as show business — would make appear and disappear. The sheer danger of having hundred-pound animals a stone’s throw from the crowd heightened the thrill, and at the height of its popularity, the act grossed $45 million a year, making them the most successful live entertainers in the history of Las Vegas.

“The wonderful thing about Siegfried & Roy’s show is that you didn’t have to be over 21 to watch it,” Mirage developer Steve Wynn once said. “It wasn’t salacious or erotic. It was big and sensual, but you can take anybody to it and, more importantly, since 15 percent of this town was foreign visitors who don’t necessarily speak English, we got all of the international trade.”

Horn, the animal lover and trainer, would conceive a flaming dragon or suggest he ride an elephant onto the stage. He then left it to Fischbacher, the magician, to figure out how to make it happen.

“Roy was always bigger than life,” Fischbacher said in the October 2019 ABC 20/20 special Siegfried & Roy: Behind the Magic. “Roy had these dreams, and I had the ideas. His dreams were always so big, but we made the dreams become a reality.”

“Siegfried often said that he by himself would not be enough and Roy by himself would be too much,” added Lynette Chappell, the duo’s personal manager. “But to me, it’s like thunder and lightning.”

“I can’t even tell you the feeling — what it is — when a full-grown tiger licks your face,” Horn once said. “But you also have the thing at the same time that one swipe of his paw can decapitate you.”

On October 3, 2003 — Horn’s 59th birthday — Siegfried & Roy were performing at the Mirage in the 1,500-seat theater built and named for them. Horn was leading Mantacore, a 400-pound, seven-foot-long striped white male tiger, across the stage when he stumbled and fell. Mantacore sunk his teeth into Horn’s neck and dragged him offstage.

Some in the audience believed it was part of the act until Siegfried announced that the show was over. Backstage, trainers separated Mantacore from Horn. The puncture wounds were causing him to bleed out, and he had suffered a stroke. Horn would lose most of the use of his left side, and his performing days were over.

The official story was that Horn suffered the stroke onstage, causing him to stumble and set off the horrific chain of events. Instead of blaming the tiger, Horn did just the opposite. “Mantacore saved my life,” he told People magazine in 2004. “He instinctively saw that I needed help, and he helped me.”

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