Siegfried Fischbacher, half of the magician team of Siegfried & Roy known for their glittering costumes and extravagant illusions involving tigers, lions and other animals, which made them among the most popular and highest-paid entertainers in Las Vegas, died Jan. 13 at his home in that city. He was 81.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, his publicist Dave Kirvin said.
Mr. Fischbacher and his longtime partner, Roy Horn, were inseparable throughout their career, which lasted more than 40 years. They began working together as teenagers and ended up as headliners at their own 1,500-seat theater at the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas.
Their act came to an abrupt end on Oct. 3, 2003, when a 400-pound white tiger locked its jaws on Horn’s neck and dragged him from the stage. Horn almost died of blood loss, had a stroke and never fully recovered. He died in May of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Mr. Fischbacher, the blond half of the German-born duo, began performing magic tricks when he was 8 and was the chief illusionist. Horn, who had a close attachment to animals from childhood, was the principal trainer of a menagerie that came to include panthers, horses and elephants, as well as the signature white tigers and white lions highlighted in every Siegfried & Roy show.
The couple, who lived at a Las Vegas compound called Little Bavaria, had met when Mr. Fischbacher was a 17-year-old steward on a cruise ship. Horn, who ran away from home at 13, was a cabin boy on the ship. In his hometown of Bremen, he had worked at the local zoo, caring for a cheetah named Chico.
At the time, Mr. Fischbacher was working on the side as a magician on the ship.
“I told Siegfried if he could make rabbits come out of a hat, why couldn’t he make cheetahs appear?” Horn recalled in a 1993 interview with People magazine. “I wanted to be part of his act, and I wanted to find a way to be with my cheetah again.”
Horn, who became Mr. Fischbacher’s stage partner in 1959, used a laundry bag to smuggle the cheetah out of the zoo onto the ship. The pair developed an illusion in which Mr. Fischbacher tore apart a stuffed toy cheetah and tossed the disjointed remnants in a box. They turned the box around, opened the lid and out jumped Chico. Over the years, Siegfried & Roy mastered more elaborate variations on the same basic trick.
“When I said to Roy, in magic, anything is possible, he believed so much,” Mr. Fischbacher told NBC’s “Today” show in 2003. “He looked at me like, Oh, in magic, anything is possible? And he was the first one — he believed in me so much.”
Siegfried & Roy struggled for years, surviving on potatoes while feeding their animals steak. They began to gain notice in 1966, after Princess Grace of Monaco — previously known as the actress Grace Kelly — admired one of their performances. They moved on to nightclubs in Paris and Madrid before coming to Las Vegas in 1967…