Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Uwe Ludwig Horn passed away within a year of each other (Roy in May 2020 and Siegfried in January 2021), marking the end of not just a partnership, but a phenomenon. And, with it, the end of an era. The magician duo were some of the greatest showmen in the history of American entertainment.
They built themselves up from nothing. Their friend Arnold Schwarzenegger said the duo provided America with “the greatest immigration story” he’s ever known. The German-born masters of illusion turned their lives into a fairy tale, and as in every fairy tale, there was a chapter of tragedy. For Siegfried and Roy, their journey ended when one of their beloved tigers turned its back on them. Only recently, after 15 years, the animal trainer finally shed light on the truth.
With their chiseled cheekbones and silk-clad costumes, they made their way to Las Vegas to give their audience a show they couldn’t forget. In Vegas, they created two worlds for themselves. The first was an eight-acre compound called “Jungle Palace” that sat only a few miles away from the Strip. The other was on the outskirts of Vegas – a 100-acre “Little Bavaria,” which included a maze of mansions and fields.
Apparently, German marching music could be heard pumping through speakers that were disguised as rocks. Why did they need so much space? Well, they had to factor in their 63 big cats, including a white Himalayan tiger they named SiegRoy. Oh, and there were also peacocks and goats that rocker David Lee Roth gave them as a gift.
Siegfried and Roy built their own magical haven, and the word modesty wasn’t in their vocabulary. Jungle Palace took extravagance to another level. They had a replica of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, and in Roy’s bedroom, a mural was painted on the wall featuring him (as a young man) with two cheetahs, lit by the light of the moon, holding a crystal.
When a reporter visited the compound and asked Roy what that mural was about, Roy answered, it’s “the power of life and light. It’s nothing special.” What was special, though, was the duo’s relationship. As it turns out, the most burning question on the internet has to do with the nature of the duo’s relationship…
The pair is best known for their Las Vegas shows at the Mirage Resort and Casino starting in 1990 (until 2003), but their story together began decades earlier. The longtime duo were once lovers but became lifelong friends. The couple rarely talked about the true nature of their relationship publicly.
Siegfried fell in love with magic when he was eight years old. As for Roy, he fell in love with animals at a young age. Roy said his family’s black half-wolf dog Hexe (which means witch) was his only friend: “I was a prince and Hexe was my unicorn.” When he would help out in the zoo, he befriended a cheetah named Chico.
From there, 17-year-old Roy went to work as a bellboy on ships. Siegfried, meanwhile, started working on a cruise liner, which is when their paths crossed. They met in 1957 on a cruise ship where they were both working at the time. Siegfried, who was five years younger, was just beginning his magician’s journey and became Roy’s assistant.
On their next voyage, Roy was underwhelmed by Siegfried’s act, so he smuggled Chico onboard with him in a laundry sack. Siegfried then incorporated the cheetah into his routine. And so, Siegfried and Roy were born. “We paved the way for a new standard of oceanic entertainment,” Roy wrote in their 1992 autobiography.
After coming together as a magic act, they started performing their shows in small clubs in Germany and Switzerland. Siegfried & Roy got their big break in a Paris casino in 1967 while performing one of their shows. A producer in the audience asked them to come to Las Vegas to try out their material.
Not only did they succeed in their first Vegas show – they proved to be so popular during the 1970s that they became the headliners at the “Lido de Paris” show at the Stardust as well as the “Beyond Belief” show at the Frontier. Eventually, they debuted their biggest show, “Siegfried & Roy at The Mirage,” in 1990.
In 1989, Steve Wynn signed the duo to a $50 million contract to headline his new hotel, The Mirage. And the Las Vegas Strip has never been the same. Siegfried and Roy were now part of the famous Strip that, until their act, consisted almost entirely of topless showgirls.
But not this show. Soon enough, other acts followed suit, making Vegas the family-friendly industry it remains today. The magicians quickly became the city’s highest-paid performers. They sold out every single show, and there were 500 of them in a year inside their very own 1,504 capacity Siegfried & Roy Theater.
Siegfried & Roy at The Mirage was inspired by their shared life – the myths, the dreams, the magic. Between the two, Roy led the animal efforts, while Siegfried headed the illusions. The two men starred as glamorous superheroes, fighting an (imaginary) war against the forces of evil, including dragons. They would make lions and tigers (oh my!) disappear.
“Every night when I’m onstage, all the things I’m doing are for real,” Roy told Esquire magazine in 2000. “They are not illusions, but facts, and that is how I execute them. Whether I fly through the air or battle a fire-breathing dragon or sit on a white tiger – that is my reality.”
By 2003, the $110 a show was raking in $44.5 million a year. But it was all about to come to an end. “To play with fire, onstage or in theory, you cannot worry about being burned,” Siegfried said in 2000. He literally meant fire, as it was a big part of their act.
But the big cats they showcased were also a major part of their act. They were, after all, “playing” with actual lions and tigers every single day. Something tragic was bound to happen – it was only a matter of time. They just never expected to get seriously injured by one of their own animals.
Roy actually had an incredible rapport with the big cats, one that had been formed over a lifetime of love and bonding. “I am their stepfather, their guru,” he told Vanity Fair in 1999 about his white tigers, explaining that they were even born, quite literally, in his lap.
Before the tigers turned one, they slept in bed with Siegfried and Roy, and they also swam with the cats. “Wherever I am, they are comfortable, because the first voice they hear is mine. The first face they see is mine. So, most probably, they think I am a tiger,” Roy stated.
But, on October 3, 2003, the magic duo’s long run at the Mirage ended abruptly when Roy was attacked by a 600-pound tiger named Mantecore on stage. The horrific scene took place on Roy’s 59th birthday. The incident landed him in the hospital with severe blood loss, and he suffered a stroke as a result.
So, what happened on that fateful night? Well, there are conflicting stories regarding what happened – or at least why it happened. Halfway through Siegfried and Roy’s performance, their seven-year-old and seven-foot-long 400-pound white male tiger named Mantecore refused to lay down at Roy’s command.
Roy then tapped the tiger on his nose with his microphone (which Siegfried explained later to Larry King was their way of giving the tiger “just a little reminder”). But when Roy reminded the tiger, he bit Roy’s sleeve.
Roy then stumbled back and Mantecore bit into Roy’s neck before dragging the unconscious magician in his mouth offstage. Animal trainer Chris Lawrence, who was onstage that very night, intervened and managed to distract the tiger. All the while, the audience of 1,500 was watching in absolute horror at the magic show gone wrong taking place right before their eyes.
According to Roy, he felt dizzy on stage, tripped and fell down. Then he saw Mantecore standing over him. “Mantecore went on top of him, and he looked around,” Siegfried recalled. At the time, he appeared to not understand what was happening.
Stagehands rushed to help. “Mantecore was carrying Roy, heading toward his cage,” Curtis Rowe, an electrician and stagehand, said. “I grabbed him by the tail, which caused Mantecore to stop.” They also grabbed a fire extinguisher and hurled it at the tiger, which made Mantecore drop Roy, who was then rushed to the hospital.
Roy suffered a stroke, and his spine was severed. He lost a lot of blood – too much blood – and, while in the hospital, his heart stopped multiple times. The truth is that Roy nearly died. In fact, doctors said that he did indeed die, that is before they revived him.
When Dr. Allan MacIntyre, a general surgeon at University Medical Center, learned that a man who had been bitten by a tiger was being taken to his Las Vegas hospital, he had no idea what he was in for. “They don’t tell you that they’re bringing in a celebrity,” he said.
They told him, “We have a male patient that has been bitten by a tiger in respiratory distress.” They also said it was a “Class One activation,” which means everybody needs to present themselves to the trauma unit.
As Roy arrived at the hospital’s level I trauma center, it was quickly determined that he had suffered major puncture wounds to his neck. “A tiger bite to the neck,” MacIntyre began; “We don’t see that on a daily basis.” The tiger’s teeth went in deep enough to damage enough of Roy’s blood vessels, causing serious internal bleeding and compromising Roy’s airway.
It was the first thing they had to deal with, he explained. “If you’re not breathing for over three minutes, you will have irreversible brain death.” Roy was in such distress that his heart stopped multiple times. “He actually flatlined… or died,” Dr. Jay Coates, a trauma surgeon, added. “We lost vital signs on him.”
Roy was released from the hospital a month after he was admitted. He was “with it enough to communicate with us, but he was still on a respirator intermittently.” Roy suffered permanent damage from the attack, as he lost the use of his left arm completely and much of his left leg.
Siegfried and Roy have insisted that Roy actually had a stroke right there on stage and that the tiger was simply trying to help his beloved owner after he fell. In other words, Mantecore was saving Roy, rather than attacking him.
After such a shocking turn of events, Roy gave a surprising statement, telling People in 2004 that “Mantecore saved my life.” However, according to animal trainer Chris Lawrence, that wasn’t exactly what went down on stage…
In 2019, Lawrence told The Hollywood Reporter that for a few years up until that point, Roy had been spending less time with the big cats before their shows. Lawrence was suggesting that it was a key factor in the incident, in addition to the fact that Roy was steering Mantecore incorrectly on stage that night.
Lawrence said in a statement that, “instead of Roy walking Mantecore in a circle, as he usually does, he simply used his arm to steer him back to his body. Since Roy didn’t follow the correct procedure, “it fed into confusion and rebellion.”
Lawrence recalls how, several years before the incident, Roy started spending less and less time coming in close contact with the cats before the shows. What was once a consistent routine — hand-feeding treats through kennel wire and talking to them as he made his rounds — became more sporadic.
“Many of the handlers thought that Roy was treating the cats more like props than he was respecting them for who they were,” Lawrence said. “I am positive that Roy’s diminishing relationship with Mantecore was a key factor in the attack.”
Siegfried and Roy, of course, dismissed any account other than their own. Lawrence said he suffered a 15-year battle with PTSD and was finally ready to discuss the human error that triggered the unforgettable incident.
Siegfried maintained that Roy had fallen as the result of the stroke and had “no idea” why Lawrence came forward with a different version of the incident. He dismissed Lawrence’s story by stating that he “had problems with his life anyway.” In case you’re wondering, the only video of the incident was taken by The Mirage’s cameras and has never been publicly released.
Lawrence said that up close, deadly close, a tiger’s scent is urine and pheromones. He explained that while it’s a uniquely powerful scent, it can smell like burnt buttered popcorn, or a whiff of a truck’s muffler: “You never forget it.”
Lawrence’s responsibilities included the daily care of the tiger, and when Mantecore bit and held Roy in his mouth, Lawrence desperately tried to pull the cat back by the nape of his neck. A moment earlier, Lawrence was on his back, expecting his own imminent death. Siegfried cried out as the audience watched in awe, while Mantecore dragged Roy offstage through the ball-fringe curtains.
The events that unfolded that night are now part of pop culture legend. According to popular myth, as the magicians claimed up until their deaths, it was Roy’s stroke onstage that caused Mantecore to lunge at him in an instinct to help his owner.
After the incident, the Vegas mainstay shuttered permanently. Mantecore was obviously deemed blameless and was reintegrated with the rest of the magic duo’s big-cat collection, until he died in 2014 (at the age of 17).
Lynette Chappell was one of the pair’s closest collaborators. She had worked with them since the ‘70s and was part of the show on the night of the incident. “He would turn [Mantecore] around. [Mantecore] would be seated, and then…Roy would give the command and Mantecore would react to the command and rise up,” she described of the act.
Then, Roy would go upstage with Mantecore. Roy had performed the same act with that very tiger thousands of times. In their three-decade span of performing with animals, Siegfried told 20/20 that there had been no major incidents – just a few “minor mishaps.”
“There was only that one major incident. And that was an accident,” Siegfried said. One time a black jaguar popped out of a trunk onstage and her chain broke. Another time, a tiger jumped out from a bush in their compound and pinned Roy to the floor.
Roy had to bite the tiger on her nose to make her release him. “She is going by pure of her instinct [sic],” he said in a 1996 interview. “Well, I went by pure of my instinct, what another cat will do in the wild. So, I pull her and then I bit her on the nose. She was startled.”
“They are simple-minded,” Roy had said, comparing the big cats to six- or seven-year-old kids with hundreds of pounds of power. “So, you can’t argue. You cannot, with force, get them to do anything they don’t want to do.”
To build trust with these wild cats, he trained them from birth. “The first voice they hear, it’s mine,” Roy said. “The first face they see is mine.” The way he saw it, the cats thought he was a tiger, too, and he was their “father figure.” Apparently, they looked to him as a sort of a “security blanket.”
Both Siegfried and Roy were wounded in the accident. Chappell said that Siegfried “lost part of his soul then too.” And that “without Roy’s influence, Siegfried didn’t know what path he was on.” Siegfried went on to care for his lifelong friend and partner.
The two played chess together during Roy’s recovery, and rails were installed for him to make his way around the massive compound. Eventually, he was able to take short strolls when he wasn’t confined to a scooter. And when he spoke, it wasn’t without difficulty.
Roy still loved his animals and returned to their Las Vegas compound, referring to it as rehabilitation for both his emotional and physical well-being. “When Roy started to recover, he took Siegfried along with him, and in doing so, Siegfried started to give Roy the support, and as you see them now, they walk next to each other,” Chappell said.
They support each other. But the two magicians and the tiger weren’t the only characters in this tragic story. Lawrence was a central figure in the story, and it took him 15 years to talk about it for the first time.
He believes the attack was concocted to protect the legendary magicians. Lawrence says the leading narrative put out by the magician duo isn’t what really happened. The animal trainer’s version contends that Siegfried and Roy’s story was shaped by their attempt to protect the brand and save face.
Lawrence believes the duo was trying to cover a series of onstage handling errors made specifically by Roy. “While Roy, unfortunately, bears the physical scars of the attack,” Lawrence stated, “he definitely isn’t the only person that was left suffering in the aftermath of it.”
It was the attack that night that left Lawrence in a state of PTSD for 15 years. The Hollywood Reporter reviewed the probe into the incident, which became a two-year investigation directed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was made public in 2005.
(If you’re wondering why the USDA was involved, it’s because the agency has authority over exotic animals). Norm Clarke, a longtime Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist, said that “Their story was met at the time [among in-the-know locals] with considerable, shall we say, skepticism.” Clarke wanted to point out something that many animal-lovers may be worried about…
He wanted to touch upon the concern over whether any harm was done to the tiger(s). Clarke noted that “it was understood that the last thing they wanted to do was demonize their animals since they were seen as members of their family.” Thus, no animals were harmed. Just Roy. And let it also go on the record that Lawrence, now in his late 40s, says he sympathized with the duo.
He simply stands by his belief that the magicians propagated their storyline because the reality behind it undermined a lifetime of image building. At the end of the day, the self-styled “masters of the impossible” showed their incredible interspecies bonds.
The duo portrayed an illusion of a different kind – that these wild beasts could be tamed into docile creatures. Roy had long projected a narrative around his animal handling, in which he described an almost supernatural bond built through direct observation, conversation, and meditation. He published a book in 2000 that was sold at the Mirage’s gift shops.
Whoever read the book, read about the series of injuries he endured while performing illusions over the last three decades. He noted, though, that they never occurred in his personal encounters with his animals. “I don’t have any battle scars,” he bragged. “They lick me raw.”
Lawrence chose to finally speak out for several reasons. For one, he noted his anxiety regarding the factual accuracy of a biopic the magician duo had previously announced, which was to deal with the attack (which, as of early 2021, is still reportedly in the works).
Another reason Lawrence spoke up was because he has long been frustrated that the USDA neglected to use his testimony during their investigation. In his opinion, show officials purposefully sought to keep enough distance between the external investigation and those in possession of the contradictory information.
Most important, Lawrence has struggled severely as a result of that night. He was eventually forced to quit his longtime career in animal handling and get a diagnosis of PTSD (after turning to the bottle for self-medication), dealing with night terrors and suicidal thoughts.
As he continues his road to recovery, he thinks that going public with his story is a benefit to himself, his family and other victims of trauma. “Our three kids almost lost their father,” he explained with a quivering voice. His wife added: “Really, in a lot of respects, we did lose him.”
“This changed him. It was like a little piece of him died that day,” his wife said. Despite everything that happened, the Lawrence home remains a showcase of the Siegfried & Roy world, from the lion painting on the wall to the big cat throw blanket on the couch.
While he battled nightmares involving his former bosses, he still enjoyed watching DVDs of Father of the Pride, which was an NBC animated sitcom about the magic show’s white lions that aired from 2004 to 2005. His eldest daughter, 22, boasted: “I always won the ‘my-dad’s-cooler-than-your-dad contest’.”
Just as Siegfried and Roy transformed Las Vegas when they first set foot on the strip, so did the notorious incident and the shuttering of their show. In the past decade and a half, the discourse over animal entertainment has shifted.
For instance, Ringling Bros. closed, and SeaWorld is in the process of fading out their theatrical killer whale shows. If the attack at the Mirage would have happened today (or even in the past five years) it would easily have made it onto the internet within minutes of the attack.
While the world moved on and seemingly forgot about how it was once entranced, appalled, or amused by the Siegfried & Roy show gone wrong, Lawrence couldn’t. “It’s been 15 years, but I live it every day and every night… It’ll never leave me.”
Vegas’ attractions are no longer glitzy spectacles with magic and animals. Instead, it’s Cirque du Soleil, A-list pop stars and DJ residencies. Journalist Norm Clarke ranks Siegfried and Roy’s significance as Vegas beacons – as important as Elvis Presley and Celine Dion were. Their show was featured on The Tonight Show and regularly drew in A-listers like Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and Elizabeth Taylor.
What might or might not come as a surprise is that the duo was close with Arnold Schwarzenegger. After Roy died (from complications from Covid) and Siegfried (from pancreatic cancer), Arnold was one of many celebrities who reacted.
Arnold posted a pair of heartfelt tweets. “I’ll always be grateful for their big hearts and kindness. When my mom came to visit, it was a big deal for her to see Siegfried and Roy, and they made her feel like the queen,” he wrote. Arnold and the magician duo have some interesting parallels, including their immigration to America and becoming world-famous.
Today, the last link between Siegfried & Roy’s brand and the public is the Secret Garden complex – the small zoo at the Mirage that opened in 1997 when the show was in its prime. Visitors can still see big cats – lions, tigers and leopards – lazily tanning in the Vegas sun.
Lawrence worked long hours at the compound when he wasn’t on performance duty. VIP guests were privy to getting taken around back for visits. Lawrence remembers one time when Demi Moore was the VIP guest and her perfume caused Mantecore’s brother, Jahan, to get “extremely excited.”
Jahan scratched Lawrence up “pretty good” when he tried to get the tiger away from her. There was another time when Michael Jackson was the VIP guest. Jackson actually wrote, recorded and sang the show’s theme song. He was also a frequent and easygoing guest, according to Lawrence, so much so that the cats’ handlers would roll their eyes when he would return yet again.
Lawrence’s wife Alicia, then working in boxing promotions, recalls often calling Lawrence at the Secret Garden when they were dating. Their phone conversations always included pauses while Manchu, a snow leopard that Lawrence cared for, purred in affection in the background.
Lawrence worked his way up the Siegfried and Roy show ladder. He originally got the gig by making a cold call when he moved to town in 1995. He started by scrubbing kennels, learning illusion setups and bonding with the big cats.
It was an all-in kind of job, both in terms of labor and time. He endured three shoulder surgeries and two micro-fractured vertebrae due to the job, after all. Lawrence ended up quitting his job at the Secret Garden three years after the incident. He said he felt guilt over Roy’s injuries as well as an increasing discomfort around the animals.
A decade ago, Siegfried and Roy made one last Las Vegas appearance, which was later televised as part of a 20/20 special. It was a charity event for the benefit of brain science. The magicians performed an illusion in which Roy removed a curtain from a cage to reveal a white tiger that had replaced Siegfried.
The duo’s manager announced that the tiger was indeed Mantecore, which gave a sense of closure to the pair’s last show. But if you ask Lawrence, it was definitely not Mantecore. “What you see isn’t really what is happening,” Lawrence stated. “I’ll leave that there because I can’t go into any details about the illusions. We all had to sign an NDA. I am completely understanding of that and committed to it.”