A 1959 Cruise Ship Meeting Spawned an Indelible Act

The 'Atlantic' does a deep dive into Siegfried and Roy's 6-decade partnership
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 18, 2022 2:26 PM CDT
A 1959 Cruise Ship Meeting Spawned an Indelible Act
Illusionists Siegfried Fischbacher, left, and Uwe Ludwig Horn (Roy) pose for photographers with a white tiger cub after they unveiled their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles in 1994.   (AP Photo/Neil Jacobs, File)

"It’s almost hard to fathom ... but there was a time when two sons of damaged German soldiers could put on gemstone-laden capes and codpieces and do corny tricks in the company of some magnificent animals and rank among the best-known and wealthiest entertainers in the world." So write Chris Jones and Michael J. Mooney in a piece for the Atlantic on those two men, who were, of course, Siegfried Fischbacher and Uwe Ludwig Horn—Siegfried and Roy. Their fascinating piece details the magicians' start, from their fateful 1959 meeting on a German cruise ship where Siegfried worked as a steward and sometimes performed magic "devoid of surprise or flair"; Roy was a 15-year-old bellboy who had smuggled a cheetah into his cabin. The two performed together on board, and the rest is history—which Jones and Mooney detail at length.

After nearly a decade performing throughout Europe, they made their way to Vegas, initially appearing as the 14th act in the Tropicana's show. They worked their way to the top and got their own marquee. Then came Steve Wynn. In 1986 he struck out to build the first new hotel casino in Vegas since the early '70s, and he gave Siegfried and Roy a staggering opportunity: to perform in a theater that wasn't retrofitted to work for them, but one built to their "ridiculous specifications," where they could entertain families "without crudeness or nudity or sin, just magic, great big beautiful magic." The Mirage became their "forever home," until "the accident," as those in the duo's orbit call what happened to Roy on Oct. 3, 2003, when a white tiger named Mantecore bit his neck on stage. (The engrossing full piece goes into depth on everything from what is thought to have happened that night to what became of the pair's belongings after their deaths in 2020 and 2021.)

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