Few stars on the Las Vegas Strip have been consistently able to attract audiences after so many years like Siegfried and Roy, the magic-performing, tiger-taming German duo. And despite a 5 1/2 year absence on stage after the abrupt end of their show at The Mirage on October 3, 2003, Siegfried and Roy are still just as hot as ever as stars and fans from all around the world eagerly anticipate their finale performance. On February 28, the magicians will officially say farewell to Las Vegas during a performance at the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute’s “Keep Memory Alive” gala at the Bellagio, a performance that will be documented by ABC’s 20/20.
However, before the world watches Siegfried and Roy take the stage for the last time, we wanted to look back on the 50-year career of these prestigious performers and see how they came to be Las Vegas legends today.
Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn were both born in Germany in 1939 and 1944, respectively. In 1959, Siegfried, who discovered magic early on at the age of 9, met Roy, a profound lover of animals and frequent visitor of the Bremen Zoo, on board a German ocean liner. Siegfried was a cabin steward and Roy a waiter, and after watching the former perform informally for guests, Roy asked Siegfried a vital question:
“If you can make a rabbit and a dove appear and disappear, can you do the same with a cheetah?”
From there, the two began developing a show that combined Siegfried’s magic and Roy’s cheetah Chico, which he had smuggled on board the ship. Eventually, the two were promoted to cruise entertainers, which led to the beginning of a life-long friendship and an immensely successful career in show business.
For the next several years after their departure from the cruise liner, Siegfried and Roy traveled around Europe, making a meager living playing small nightclubs and honing their act and presentation. Then one fateful day, the duo received a standing ovation after a performance in a Monte Carlo casino. Among the audience members was a representative from the famous Folies Bergere show, who was so impressed with Siegfried and Roy’s act that he tracked the duo down in Spain and asked them if they wanted to perform in Las Vegas.
This led to Siegfried and Roy’s first Sin City engagement at The Tropicana in 1967. After continued touring around the world and occasional stops in Vegas, their unique combination of magic and wild cats kept increasing in popularity, and in 1972, they received the Las Vegas Entertainment Award for Best Show of the Year. Siegfried and Roy finally opened their first permanent show at the Stardust Hotel and Casino in 1978, a move that caused February 17 to be declared “Siegfried and Roy” Day in Las Vegas.
After breaking box office records, touring Japan, and incorporating white tigers into their spectacular show, Siegfried and Roy reached the pinnacle of success in 1990, when they were hired by then-manager of The Mirage Steve Wynn for an annual salary of $57.5 million. They eventually became the faces of the Mirage and signed a lifetime contract with the hotel in 2001. The Mirage marquee, the largest in the world, famously displayed the faces of Siegfried and Roy for several years.
Until the sad incident with Montecore the tiger in 2003, Siegfried and Roy’s show had an attendance record that no other show to date has been able to match. And in a measurement of their success, over 900 supporters and celebrities are expected to attend their one-night-only performance.
If you’re not one of the lucky few attending the Keep Memory Alive gala, be sure to tune into 20/20 to watch the history-making show on March 6 at 9 pm. It may be the last time Las Vegas sees performers as wondrous and magical as Siegfried and Roy.