Siegfried Fischbacher, German-born magician of Las Vegas act Siegfried & Roy, dies at 81

Siegfried Fischbacher's (left) longtime partner in the production, Roy Horn, died in May of Covid-19 complications. PHOTO: AFP

LAS VEGAS (NYTIMES, REUTERS) Siegfried Fischbacher, the German-born magician who was half of Siegfried & Roy, the team that captivated Las Vegas audiences with performances alongside big cats, elephants and other exotic animals, died on Wednesday (Jan 13) at his home in Las Vegas. He was 81.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his publicist Dave Kirvin. Fischbacher's longtime partner in the production, Roy Horn, died in May at 75 of complications of Covid-19.

For a time, the team's name was all but synonymous with Las Vegas show business, with performances that combined smoke machines and white tigers, lasers and elephants, sequined costumes, snakes and illusions of metamorphosis. Their long-running production at MGM's Mirage hotel and casino was one of the most successful in Las Vegas history.

The pair's show ended in October 2003, after Horn was mauled by a 400-pound white tiger named Mantecore, which dragged him offstage before a stunned capacity crowd of 1,500 at the Mirage.

The attack left Horn with lasting damage to his body. After he spent years recovering, the team made one final appearance, with Mantecore, at a benefit performance in Las Vegas in February 2009. They retired from show business in 2010.

Fischbacher and Horn, who were domestic as well as professional partners, kept dozens of exotic cats and other animals in the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, a glass-enclosed, tropically forested habitat at the Mirage; at Jungle Paradise, an 88-acre estate outside town; and at Jungle Palace, their $10 million Spanish-style home in Las Vegas.

"From the moment we met, I knew Roy and I, together, would change the world," Fischbacher said after Horn's death.

The two performers amazed Las Vegas audiences over four decades with stage extravaganzas that blended Fischbacher's mastery of illusion and Horn's preternatural ability to train and communicate with white tigers, lions and other animals.

In their lavish shows, an elephant would vanish, a white tiger would turn into a beautiful woman, a tiger would appear to levitate over the audience and Horn would become a snake.

Fischbacher was born on June 13, 1939, in Rosenheim, Germany, to Martin and Maria Fischbacher. At age eight, he became fascinated with magic when he saw a book on the subject in a local store.

At 17, he left home. He worked as a dishwasher and bartender at a hotel in Lago di Garda, Italy, then as a steward on the Bremen, a German cruise liner. The captain of the Bremen saw him perform magic for the crew and suggested he perform for the passengers.

He met Horn on the Bremen in 1957. Horn was a cabin boy with a love of animals who had smuggled his pet cheetah, Chico, onto the ship. They struck up a friendship, and Fischbacher asked Horn to help out with his magic act.

"I did the usual thing: rabbit out of the hat and birds and so on," Fischbacher said on CNN's Larry King Live in 2003, five days after Roy's accident. "Afterwards, I said, 'What do you think?' And he said, 'Can you do what you did with a rabbit with a cheetah?'" "I didn't know he had a pet cheetah at the time," he added, "and I said, 'Anything is possible.'"

In 1964, five years after they started working together, they were playing nightclubs in Germany and Switzerland. When they performed at a charity benefit in Monte Carlo in 1966, Princess Grace of Monaco raved about them, giving their career a boost.

A photo from Sept 23, 1999, shows magicians Siegfried Fischbacher (left) and Roy Horn during their Walk of Fame ceremony in Hollywood. PHOTO: AFP

As their act became more extravagant with the addition of more illusions and animals, Siegfried & Roy were booked into nightclubs throughout Europe. They made their debut in Las Vegas at the Tropicana in 1967, then moved on to headliner status at the Stardust in 1978 and the Frontier (where the marquee billed them as "Superstars of Magic").

Steve Wynn, who built the Mirage, signed them to a five-year, $57.5 million contract in 1987, three years before the hotel and casino opened.

The pair started performing at the Mirage hotel in 1989, selling out almost nightly in what was formerly the largest hotel in Las Vegas.

Their act ended abruptly on Oct 3, 2003, when a white tiger attacked Horn during a show. Horn's spine was severed and he sustained severe injuries. He later said he thought the tiger was trying to save him after he suffered a stroke onstage.

Immediately after, Horn is said to have asked that no harm come to Mantecore. (The tiger was unharmed, and died 11 years later.) Fischbacher is survived by his brother, Marinus, and his sister, Margot, a Franciscan nun who goes by Sister Dolore.

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