Oct. 3, 2003, marked the end of an era for illusionist Roy Horn, who with partner Siegfried Fischbacher, parlayed big-production magic and disappearing white tigers into one of the most successful and longest-running shows on the Las Vegas Strip. During their popular Mirage show, where the duo had a lifetime contract, Horn was attacked by Montecore, a 7-year-old royal white Siberian tiger.
Horn did not die. But the Siegfried & Roy show, after 13 successful years at the Mirage, closed at once. Horn engaged in a constant effort at physical rehabilitation, with Fischbacher always by his side, and managed to recover beyond what doctors originally thought possible.
According to their book "Siegfried & Roy's Magic for the Ages," Fischbacher and Horn, who were both born in Germany, met aboard a cruise ship in 1957. Fischbacher, 18, was a steward but entertained guests with magic tricks involving doves and rabbits. The 13-year-old Horn had gotten himself hired as a bellboy and had managed to bring a cheetah named Chico on board after "liberating" the animal from the zoo.
Horn was fascinated by Fischbacher's magic and challenged him to perform the same tricks — but with Chico as the star. The serendipitous shipboard pairing launched their career, but they won only lukewarm reception at various European theaters.
In 1966, their star began to rise after a performance before Princess Grace of Monaco, and soon they were sharing the marquee at Paris' Lido and Folies Bergere clubs.
They arrived in Las Vegas in 1970, sharing the stage with other acts at the Tropicana and the Stardust, and finally booking their own theater at the Frontier Hotel in 1981.
To snazz up their act, the two acquired their first three white tiger cubs from the Cincinnati Zoo, offering to help breed them on the zoo's behalf. In the ensuing years, with Fischbacher standing admiringly and cautiously in the background, Horn bred several dozen white tigers at the pair's compound, the Jungle Palace, in North Las Vegas.
The entertainers also maintain another animal refuge, called Little Bavaria, near Mt. Charleston outside Las Vegas. One of the entrances to the Mirage features a white tiger enclosure, slowing tourists who will watch the animals bask in the sun or dip in the water as a videotape loop plays on monitors above them, showing Horn tussling with the animals.
The tiger that attacked Horn, Montecore, was purchased from a litter of three cubs born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and acquired by the illusionists when the cubs were about 3 weeks old. Montecore was raised at the Secret Garden.
The duo, along with Montecore, gave their final farewell performance at the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute benefit in Las Vegas in February 2009 after a five-year hiatus.