‘It took four men and a fire extinguisher to get the tiger off him’: the tragedy of Vegas magicians Siegfried and Roy

4 months ago 271

Where bash you commencement with a communicative that involves counter-terrorism constabulary doing inheritance checks connected a tiger, has its roots successful the intelligence wellness problems of Nazi soldiers, and features an probe into whether a beehive hairdo tin beryllium utilized arsenic a weapon? What’s more, weaving successful and retired of each of this, determination are 2 German magicians successful mullets and shiny suits seemingly susceptible of floating astir successful the air, 1 of whom astir dies connected signifier aft a achromatic tiger bites cleanable done his neck.

This was the occupation facing Emmy-winning film-maker Steven Leckart, who had agelong felt that the bonzer communicative of Siegfried and Roy, whose performances with exotic animals electrified Las Vegas, deserved a due telling. The effect is Wild Things, an eight-part podcast detailing however Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn roseate to planetary stardom with a full zoo’s worthy of performing jungle cats, past had their unrecorded vocation efficaciously ended erstwhile a tiger called Montecore attacked Roy connected stage, astir sidesplitting him.

“As a kid of the 80s,” says Leckart, speaking via Zoom from his Los Angeles home, “Siegfried and Roy person ever loomed ample for me. And nary 1 has ever decently examined their communicative – oregon the onslaught – successful depth.” To bash truthful was a mighty undertaking: implicit the people of 50 years, Siegfried and Roy performed 30,000 shows to 50 cardinal people, generating implicit $1bn successful summons sales. Their enactment fused gigantic, mind-boggling illusions with the astir exotic animals connected earth, sparking an detonation successful families coming to Vegas shows, astatine a clip erstwhile bills were dominated by topless showgirls.

‘They were hyperbole manifested’ … Siegfried and Roy with their achromatic  lions and tigers.
‘They were hyperbole manifested’ … Siegfried and Roy with their achromatic lions and tigers. Photograph: Willi Schneider/REX/Shutterstock

The duo suspended tigers supra crowds connected flaming disco balls and made elephants vanish into bladed air. After their shows, they would bent retired with their jungle cats successful their suite astatine the Mirage hotel, earlier returning to their $10m Moroccan-style villa the Jungle Palace, oregon their 100-acre residence Little Bavaria, wherever German marching euphony played done concealed speakers.

Their personage acquaintances included Michael Jackson (who wrote them a taxable song), David Lee Roth (who talented them goats) and Pope John Paul II (who gave them a fragment of Saint Francis of Assisi’s shinbone). In 1998, the past US President Bill Clinton joined them aft a show, his concealed work sharpshooters grooming their weapons connected the tigers. A Saturday Night Live spoof had them introducing a peculiar Night of a Thousand Tigers.

“They were hyperbole manifested,” says Leckart. “Everything astir them was bigger, was louder, was dialled up to 11, which is simply a deliberate Spinal Tap reference. But what kept them going for truthful galore years was their unthinkable accomplishment and the mode they progressed their show.”

Wild Things takes listeners done this journey, which has amazingly bittersweet origins successful Germany. Both Siegfried and Roy’s fathers were violent, rage-filled alcoholics, scarred by years of warring arsenic Nazi soldiers. Roy’s lifelong emotion of animals started erstwhile helium adopted a stray canine that protected him and his parent from his father’s fists. Siegfried sought refuge successful magic, teaching himself tricks from books aft watching an entertainer swallow razor blades successful a municipality square.

Sharpshooters … erstwhile   Bill Clinton visited backstage, concealed  work  agents trained their weapons connected  the tigers.
Sharpshooters … erstwhile Bill Clinton visited backstage, concealed work agents trained their weapons connected the tigers. Photograph: Ethan Miller/Reuters

The budding illusionists met arsenic teenagers connected a German cruise ship, wherever Roy worked arsenic a bellboy aft fleeing his household and Siegfried was a steward with a magic amusement successful the evening. Unimpressed by the spectacle of rabbits being disappeared from hats, Roy decided to standard things up and get him a cheetah instead, truthful smuggled 1 retired of a zoo. It marked the commencement of their signature fusion of magic and jungle cats. Legend has it that a furious skipper kicked them disconnected the ship, but Leckart tells a antithetic story: “I heard that the skipper was truly huffy astir it, but the assemblage loved it truthful overmuch that helium fto them transportation on.”

In 1966, the duo’s large interruption came erstwhile Grace Kelly (AKA Princess Grace of Monaco) invited them to execute astatine her yearly Red Cross gala successful Monte Carlo. Their cheetah, Chico, fled done a celebrity-packed crowd, consecutive past Kelly and into the kitchens. When Siegfried nonchalantly jumped disconnected the stage, the assemblage assumed it was each portion of the act. A lasting ovation and paper headlines followed.

Within a fewer years, they were regular performers successful Vegas, earlier bagging a header slot with the city’s archetypal full-length magic show. Eventually, a rival edifice would poach them successful a flamboyant stunt successful which they were helicoptered successful to motion a $57m contract. Their caller venue had 1,500 seats and it sold out, doubly a night, for a decade.

At location  with the pets … Siegfried and Roy.
At location with the pets … Siegfried and Roy. Photograph: Willi Schneider/REX/Shutterstock

Listening to Wild Things – its archetypal 2 episodes person conscionable dropped – you bash wonder: “Isn’t immoderate of this cruel to animals?” We perceive lively stories astir the magicians removing babe tigers from their mother. A supposedly humorous anecdote involves a panther bursting a waterbed aft it’s locked successful a chamber during a party, portion a pacy anecdote astir 2 tigers being stolen does alternatively skip implicit the information that they had been near extracurricular a deli locked successful the backmost of a truck. This can’t each beryllium OK, tin it? “We bash spell – successful extent – into the question of carnal payment and information successful a consequent episode,” says Leckart. “What we uncover is not conscionable shocking, but truly disturbing.”

Initially, though, Wild Things concerns itself with the 2003 tiger attack. By the clip it happened, Siegfried and Roy had been performing alongside exotic animals for 44 years, repeating the aforesaid amusement each nighttime for an full decade. It was truthful regular that – arsenic the formed near Roy connected signifier to present a spotlit monologue to seven-year-old achromatic tiger Montecore – they knew each connection and motion that was coming. Or truthful they thought.

Montecore bites Roy done the neck, slicing his vertebrae and severing an artery that cuts disconnected the humor to the close broadside of his brain. He drags Roy about, coating the signifier successful truthful overmuch humor that 1 onlooker says: “I’m reasoning to myself, ‘He’s gone. He’s not going to marque it, man.’ This was fucking hellhole connected earth.” Another shocked dependable says: “It took 4 men and a occurrence extinguisher to get the tiger disconnected him.”

In the ambulance, Roy manages to gasp: “Montecore is simply a large cat. Make definite nary harm comes to Montecore.” Soon helium is flatlining successful infirmary and the Mirage car parkland is filling up with praying, weeping fans. Police participate the edifice to find drinks abandoned connected tables and a signifier inactive slicked with blood. So aggravated is the media spotlight that the constabulary determine to usage officers usually assigned to counter-terrorist cases. The question is: was the tiger onslaught a crime?

And this is wherever the podcast, which had been compelling enough, truly shifts into different gear. It would beryllium unfair to springiness distant its galore surprises but (spoiler alert) Leckart’s squad observe that the probe entered genuinely bizarre territory, including carnal activists, homophobes successful the crowd, ultrasonic devices and a pistillate adjacent the signifier with a ample beehive hairdo. Montecore’s inheritance is probed, too.

Remembrance … the statue honouring the brace  and their act.
Remembrance … the statue honouring the brace and their act. Photograph: Benjamin Hager/AP

“This is wherefore we called the podcast Wild Things,” says Leckart. “We would conscionable find caller and chaotic bits of accusation astatine each turn. What’s adjacent much bizarre is the abstracted probe into carnal cruelty by the USDA. The twists and turns of wherever that goes is bananas.”

Roy was near partially paralysed connected the near broadside of his body. He claimed that Montecore didn’t really onslaught him, insisting that helium had suffered a changeable and the tiger was trying to instrumentality him to safety. He continued to unrecorded with Montecore until the jungle cat’s decease successful 2014. To this day, determination has been nary wide accepted mentation of the incident, which led to the Mirage closing the show.

Leckart, however, thinks he’s succeeded wherever the counter-terrorism detectives failed. “We perfectly lick the question of what happened with the attack,” helium says. “We travel to a precise wide conclusion. My presumption connected the origin changed passim the making of the series. But you volition not permission the podcast without forming an sentiment connected what happened.”

Roy died of Covid successful May 2020 astatine the property of 75. Siegfried succumbed to pancreatic crab the pursuing January. He was 81. Both had retired from showbusiness a decennary earlier.

Siegfried and Roy were the highest paid magicians Vegas had ever had and a statue to them present stands extracurricular the Mirage. They pulled disconnected bonzer stunts nighttime aft night, but their top illusion was ultimately, and tragically, exposed: the thought that these beautiful, exotic creatures could beryllium tamed. “A chaotic carnal is ever a chaotic animal,” we perceive Roy accidental aboriginal on. “Don’t ever hide that.”