Roy Uwe Horn was born in Nordenham, Germany, on Oct. 3, 1944; as he tells it, his mother went into labor while at home with his three young brothers, and hopped on her bike while “bombs were exploding all around her” so she could make it to the safety of her sister’s home to give birth.
From a young age, Horn connected with animals, particularly his family dog. He also had family friends who gave him access to their Bremen Zoo, where he was able to take care of animals like Chico, a cheetah who would eventually become part of his now-famous act.
Siegfried Fischbacher was born in Rosenheim, Germany, on June 13, 1939. According to a release from his representative, “the purchase of a magic book as a young child set in motion a life-long love for the art of magic.”
At 13, Roy began work on a luxury German cruise ship, the Bremen, eventually meeting magician Fischbacher. The two hit it off and decided to create a show together, eventually touring Europe before heading abroad. According to a 1980 PEOPLE profile, it was a 1966 performance for Monaco’s Princess Grace and Prince Rainier that truly put them on the map.
Siegfried and Roy settled in Las Vegas in 1969, landing a residency at the Vegas Stardust Hotel, where by 1980, they were making $1 million annually. According to a 1980 PEOPLE profile, “there has never been an empty seat at any of their 15 weekly performances.”
Billed as “part magic show, part circus,” the show starred the men and their menagerie of tigers, lions, elephants and birds. Many of the animals lived with them — at first in Roy’s mother’s Vegas home — with the elephants staying at the hotel.
The work wasn’t without pain, though; in the 1980 PEOPLE piece, Siegfried admitted he’d had 82 stitches in five years. But “when I am standing there covered with blood,” he said, “I know that I am going to get a standing ovation.”
By 1983 the pair moved to the Mirage on the Las Vegas Strip, beginning with a five-year, $57.5 million contract. In a 1993 PEOPLE profile, Roy called his animals “the love affair of my life,” sharing that he traveled to and from the Mirage with them daily, caring for them with the help of a full-time veterinarian, a select handful of staffers and Siegfried. ”An unhappy animal could not be onstage doing the things we do,” he added.
Though they had innumerable fans, they also had detractors, with PETA at one time telling PEOPLE, “No matter how much Siegfried and Roy say they love these animals, they have confined them continents away from their natural home. A Las Vegas stage is not a natural home for an exotic animal.”
The men, who’ve always called themselves “best friends,” at one point shared an 88-acre estate outside of Sin City, though lived in separate wings of the house (Roy’s mother, Johanna, lived on the property, too). In their 1993 book, Mastering the Impossible, the pair wrote of relationships with women, though neither ever married.
In 1999, the men received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, bringing a cub along for the excitement.
The duo’s celebrity fans included everyone from Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor to Arnold Schwarzenegger and fellow Vegas stars like Wayne Newton.
In a 1993 PEOPLE profile, Siegfried said of the men’s partnership, “Roy is the fantasist and I’m the realist. We’re good as a team because I think a little bit old and Roy gets bored and needs changes. By himself, Roy would be too much, and I would be too little.”
On Oct. 3, 2003, Roy’s animal work almost turned deadly when he was attacked mid-show by a tiger named Montecore (not pictured). He underwent three surgeries in three days, with his neurosurgeon Dr. Derek Duke telling reporters, “It’s all but miraculous that he’s alive.”
In a quieter moment that usually ended with an embrace between Roy and Montecore, the animal instead growled, and after Roy tried to calm it, went for his arm and next his neck. Montecore dragged a bleeding Roy off the stage; according to a PEOPLE story on the incident, the showman asked that no one shoot the tiger as he lay bleeding.
Roy suffered several strokes following the incident, and the Mirage show was canceled indefinitely. In the midst of his recovery, both the animal lover and his partner insisted Montecore was trying to save him, not hurt him, and floated a theory the animal was distracted by a woman in the audience.
Montecore — whom Roy raised — was temporarily quarantined then released to be with the other animals on Siegfried and Roy’s reserve in Las Vegas. The tiger died in 2014.
Nearly one year after the attack, Roy sat down with PEOPLE. Able to speak again, he was still paralyzed on much of his left side, using daily therapy to try to regain movement. Still, he said, “Thank God I’m a cat with nine lives. I’m on my ninth life now, so I still have a little bit more to do.”
In 2009, Siegfried and Roy — and Montecore — returned to the Mirage stage for one more night to film a special for ABC. “We got to say farewell in a dignified way,” Roy told the network.
The pair retreated from the spotlight after that special; it wasn’t until 2020 when Roy’s name made headlines again, this time for contracting COVID-19 at age 75. On May 8, he died of complications from the disease.
“Today, the world has lost one of the greats of magic, but I have lost my best friend,” Horn’s 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,” Fischbacher continued. “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.”
On Jan. 13, 2021, Siegfried died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 81. Given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, funeral plans were kept private, with a more public memorial to be set for a later date. In lieu of flowers, reps for the famed pair asked for donations to Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
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