Published Saturday, May 9, 2020 | 1:30 a.m.
Updated Saturday, May 9, 2020 | 2:55 p.m.
Roy Horn, half of the megastar illusionist team of Siegfried and Roy, died Friday at a Las Vegas hospital of complications from COVID-19.
“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. 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.”
In many ways, Horn lived a life as remarkable as the illusions he and Siegfried originated and long performed in Las Vegas showrooms. He survived, among other events, his birth in Germany during a World War II Allied bombing raid and being attacked by one of his tigers nearly 17 years ago, which abruptly ending the duo’s long run at the Mirage.
But not even Horn's magic could make COVID-19 disappear, as he died about 10 days after it was announced that he had contracted the coronavirus. He was 75.
Horn gained a global following, first with Siegfried and Roy’s four-decade-long act before the near-fatal Oct. 3, 2003, tiger incident, and, second, through his recovery in the years following his injury.
“Roy had an amazing career,” said Bernie Yuman, the duo’s longtime manager. “When Siegfried and Roy came to Las Vegas, they forever changed the course of entertainment history here and, with their animals, made illusion and magic an art form worldwide.”
Yuman said the duo performed an estimated 44,000 shows spanning 44 years, headlining at such spots as the Stardust, Frontier and Mirage. The Mirage shows reportedly drew 10 million attendees in 14 years and reportedly grossed more than $1 billion, a record Las Vegas box office return, Yuman said.
“I watched his recovery for all these years and learned that I could never count out Roy because he was such a fighter and had overcome so much,” Yuman said. “I just feel that we were all blessed to have had Siegfried and Roy for as long as we could be entertained by them. As an act, they will never be forgotten.”
Born Roy Uwe Ludwig Horn on Oct. 3, 1944, in Nordenham, Germany, Horn may be most remembered by some for the 2003 incident. Before a packed house, a 7-year-old tiger, Mantecore, bit Horn on the sleeve then refused to obey the “release” command and pinned Horn to the floor. The animal then bit Horn on the neck and did not release him until trainers desperately sprayed the animal with carbon dioxide. The reasons for the tiger's actions are still unclear.
As he was wheeled into surgery, Horn, who at some point also suffered a stroke during the incident, was said to have begged others not to euthanize Mantecore because he said it was not the animal’s fault that he had turned on him. The tiger died in 2014 at age 17.
Horn suffered a severed spine injury and major blood loss, along with several other life-threatening wounds. He underwent surgeries at University Medical Center. The ordeal left him with severe limitations in his ability to walk and talk. But he persevered and in 2009 returned to work with Fischbacher at a charity event. It was Horn’s final stage appearance.
“Throughout the history of Las Vegas, no artists have meant more to the development of Las Vegas’ global reputation as the entertainment capital of the world than Siegfried & Roy,” Terry Lanni, then chairman of MGM Mirage, the casino’s parent company, said after the attack. “They are so much more than the stars of the Mirage. They are the very heart of our resort.”
Las Vegas resort operators offered their condolences Friday on social media.
“The world lost a legendary figure with the passing of Roy Horn,” MGM Resorts tweeted. “His story, and the story of Siegfried & Roy, are larger than life. Our hearts go out to Roy’s family and friends, and most notably to Siegfried, who shared a lifetime of magic and friendship with this special man.”
Caesars Entertainment said on Twitter: “Sending our deepest sympathy to friends, family and fans of Roy Horn of the duo Siegfried and Roy. We love and appreciate the Vegas icon and philanthropist who led the way for incredible entertainment in Las Vegas.”
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman tweeted, “Roy Horn and his partner Siegfried are synonymous with what has made Las Vegas the entertainment capital of the world. They formed a beyond spectacular performing act that can never be replicated. We are devastated by our loss of Roy, a unique entertainer and dear friend.”
Eighteen months after the tiger attack, Horn checked into a German rehabilitation hospital for treatment and said he was “thrilled” to return to his homeland.
Two years after the attack, a still-suffering but upbeat Horn told the Sun that “the magic is back.” He was walking short distances but was no longer making elephants disappear into thin air — a popular illusion in Siegfried and Roy’s bag of tricks.
“I meditate a lot, but I am constantly in pain,” Horn told the Sun. “I’m trying to live with this.”
In recent years, Horn made public appearances for his birthday parties and other events, often walking gingerly, flanked by Siegfried or the duo’s longtime assistant Lynette Chappell.
At such events, the duo would sign for fans copies of their book “Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Begins at Home” or sign autographs on pieces of paper and other S&R memorabilia.
One later news report quoted Horn as saying he was enjoying hanging around with his menagerie of animals and quoted Siegfried as saying that Horn walked the dogs every day.
“Once you are in show business, you are always in show business,” Horn told the Sun in 2009.
In February 2009, Horn returned to work with Siegfried in a charity event to benefit the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. It was Horn's final stage appearance. The duo announced their retirement in 2010.
Fischbacher and Horn met on a cruise in the 1960s, where both were part of the crew, and formed an act. Fischbacher was the magician and Horn had worked with animals at the Bremen Zoo starting in his youth. He had lost his father during World War II and had long relied on his childhood dog, Hexe, for comfort.
The performers were discovered in 1967 in Paris by a Las Vegas producer, who invited them to come and try their luck in the neon oasis entertainment capital. After gigs in Puerto Rico and other American spots, they landed a job as a minor specialty act in the stage show “Hallelujah Hollywood" at the old MGM Grand, now Bally's. The pair later became naturalized U.S. citizens.
In the 1970s and 80s, they became a Las Vegas mainstay with performances at the Stardust — headlining the Lido de Paris show — and at the Frontier with their show “Beyond Belief” before opening the Mirage showroom in February 1990 with the “Siegfried & Roy at The Mirage” spectacular.
Their shows were long produced by Irving Feld and Kenneth Feld, who also produced the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.
Siegfried and Roy had four specials on ABC and four more on CBS. They also briefly had an animated show, “Father of the Pride," on NBC. The two had a private audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, where the pontiff blessed them.
On April 28, it was reported that Horn had tested positive for COVID-19 and was responding well to treatments. No further details were provided.
Yuman said there would be no services for the nearly 50-year Las Vegas resident until the pandemic was no longer a serious threat.
Horn is preceded in death by his mother, Johanna Horn, and half-brother Alfred Fink. He is survived by Fischbacher, his brother Werner Horn, and his animal family.
Ed Koch is a former longtime Sun reporter.