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

Wright here do you begin with a story that includes counter-terrorism police doing background checks on a tiger, has its roots in the psychological well being issues of Nazi troopers, and options an investigation into whether or not a beehive hairdo can be utilized as a weapon? What’s extra, weaving in and out of all of this, there are two German magicians in mullets and shiny fits seemingly succesful of floating round in the air, one of whom almost dies on stage after a white tiger bites clear by means of his neck.

This was the downside dealing with Emmy-winning film-maker Steven Leckart, who had lengthy felt that the extraordinary story of Siegfried and Roy, whose performances with unique animals electrified Las Vegas, deserved a correct telling. The result’s Wild Things, an eight-part podcast detailing how Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn rose to worldwide stardom with a complete zoo’s value of performing jungle cats, then had their reside profession successfully ended when a tiger referred to as Montecore attacked Roy on stage, almost killing him.

“As a baby of the 80s,” says Leckart, talking by way of Zoom from his Los Angeles residence, “Siegfried and Roy have at all times loomed massive for me. And nobody has ever correctly examined their story – or the assault – in depth.” To take action was a mighty endeavor: over the course of 50 years, Siegfried and Roy carried out 30,000 exhibits to 50 million folks, producing over $1bn in ticket gross sales. Their act fused gigantic, mind-boggling illusions with the most unique animals on earth, sparking an explosion in households coming to Vegas exhibits, at a time when payments have been dominated by topless showgirls.

‘They were hyperbole manifested’ … Siegfried and Roy with their white lions and tigers.
‘They have been hyperbole manifested’ … Siegfried and Roy with their white lions and tigers. {Photograph}: Willi Schneider/REX/Shutterstock

The duo suspended tigers above crowds on flaming disco balls and made elephants vanish into skinny air. After their exhibits, they might hang around with their jungle cats of their suite at the Mirage resort, earlier than returning to their $10m Moroccan-style villa the Jungle Palace, or their 100-acre residence Little Bavaria, the place German marching music performed by means of hid audio system.

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Their superstar acquaintances included Michael Jackson (who wrote them a theme music), David Lee Roth (who gifted them goats) and Pope John Paul II (who gave them a fragment of Saint Francis of Assisi’s shinbone). In 1998, the then US President Invoice Clinton joined them after a present, his secret service sharpshooters coaching their weapons on the tigers. A Saturday Evening Reside spoof had them introducing a particular Evening of a Thousand Tigers.

“They have been hyperbole manifested,” says Leckart. “Every thing about them was larger, was louder, was dialled up to 11, which is a deliberate Spinal Faucet reference. However what saved them going for therefore a few years was their unbelievable ability and the manner they progressed their present.”

Wild Issues takes listeners by means of this journey, which has surprisingly unhappy origins in Germany. Each Siegfried and Roy’s fathers have been violent, rage-filled alcoholics, scarred by years of combating as Nazi troopers. Roy’s lifelong love of animals began when he adopted a stray canine that protected him and his mom from his father’s fists. Siegfried sought refuge in magic, instructing himself methods from books after watching an entertainer swallow razor blades in a city sq..

Sharpshooters … when Bill Clinton visited backstage, secret service agents trained their weapons on the tigers.
Sharpshooters … when Invoice Clinton visited backstage, secret service brokers educated their weapons on the tigers. {Photograph}: Ethan Miller/Reuters

The budding illusionists met as youngsters on a German cruise ship, the place Roy labored as a bellboy after fleeing his household and Siegfried was a steward with a magic present in the night. Unimpressed by the spectacle of rabbits being disappeared from hats, Roy determined to scale issues up and get him a cheetah as a substitute, so smuggled one out of a zoo. It marked the begin of their signature fusion of magic and jungle cats. Legend has it that a livid captain kicked them off the ship, however Leckart tells a totally different story: “I heard that the captain was actually mad about it, however the crowd cherished it a lot that he allow them to keep it up.”

In 1966, the duo’s huge break got here when Grace Kelly (AKA Princess Grace of Monaco) invited them to carry out at her annual Pink Cross gala in Monte Carlo. Their cheetah, Chico, fled by means of a celebrity-packed crowd, straight previous Kelly and into the kitchens. When Siegfried nonchalantly jumped off the stage, the crowd assumed it was all half of the act. A standing ovation and newspaper headlines adopted.

Inside a few years, they have been common performers in Vegas, earlier than bagging a headline slot with the metropolis’s first full-length magic present. Ultimately, a rival resort would poach them in a flamboyant stunt through which they have been helicoptered in to signal a $57m contract. Their new venue had 1,500 seats and it offered out, twice a evening, for a decade.

At home with the pets … Siegfried and Roy.
At residence with the pets … Siegfried and Roy. {Photograph}: Willi Schneider/REX/Shutterstock

Listening to Wild Issues – its first two episodes have simply dropped – you do marvel: “Isn’t some of this merciless to animals?” We hear full of life tales about the magicians eradicating child tigers from their mom. A supposedly humorous anecdote includes a panther bursting a waterbed after it’s locked in a bed room throughout a social gathering, whereas a pacy anecdote about two tigers being stolen does somewhat skip over the proven fact that they’d been left outdoors a deli locked in the again of a truck. This may’t all be OK, can it? “We do go – in depth – into the query of animal welfare and security in a subsequent episode,” says Leckart. “What we uncover isn’t just stunning, however actually disturbing.”

Initially, although, Wild Issues issues itself with the 2003 tiger assault. By the time it occurred, Siegfried and Roy had been performing alongside unique animals for 44 years, repeating the identical present each evening for a whole decade. It was so routine that – as the forged left Roy on stage to ship a spotlit monologue to seven-year-old white tiger Montecore – they knew each phrase and gesture that was coming. Or in order that they thought.

Montecore bites Roy by means of the neck, slicing his vertebrae and severing an artery that cuts off the blood to the proper aspect of his mind. He drags Roy about, coating the stage in a lot blood that one onlooker says: “I’m pondering to myself, ‘He’s gone. He’s not going to make it, man.’ This was fucking hell on earth.” One other shocked voice says: “It took four men and a fire extinguisher to get the tiger off him.”

In the ambulance, Roy manages to gasp: “Montecore is a nice cat. Ensure no hurt comes to Montecore.” Quickly he’s flatlining in hospital and the Mirage automotive park is filling up with praying, weeping followers. Police enter the resort to discover drinks deserted on tables and a stage nonetheless slicked with blood. So intense is the media highlight that the police resolve to use officers usually assigned to counter-terrorist instances. The query is: was the tiger assault a crime?

And that is the place the podcast, which had been compelling sufficient, actually shifts into one other gear. It will be unfair to give away its many surprises however (spoiler alert) Leckart’s crew uncover that the investigation entered really weird territory, together with animal activists, homophobes in the crowd, ultrasonic gadgets and a girl close to the stage with a massive beehive hairdo. Montecore’s background is probed, too.

Remembrance … the statue honouring the pair and their act.
Remembrance … the statue honouring the pair and their act. {Photograph}: Benjamin Hager/AP

“For this reason we referred to as the podcast Wild Issues,” says Leckart. “We might simply discover new and wild bits of data at each flip. What’s much more weird is the separate investigation into animal cruelty by the USDA. The twists and turns of the place that goes is bananas.”

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Roy was left partially paralysed on the left aspect of his physique. He claimed that Montecore didn’t truly assault him, insisting that he had suffered a stroke and the tiger was making an attempt to take him to security. He continued to reside with Montecore till the jungle cat’s demise in 2014. To at the present time, there was no extensively accepted rationalization of the incident, which led to the Mirage closing the present.

Leckart, nonetheless, thinks he’s succeeded the place the counter-terrorism detectives failed. “We completely remedy the query of what occurred with the assault,” he says. “We come to a very clear conclusion. My view on the trigger modified all through the making of the sequence. However you’ll not go away the podcast with out forming an opinion on what occurred.”

Roy died of Covid in Could 2020 at the age of 75. Siegfried succumbed to pancreatic most cancers the following January. He was 81. Each had retired from showbusiness a decade earlier.

Siegfried and Roy have been the highest paid magicians Vegas had ever had and a statue to them now stands outdoors the Mirage. They pulled off extraordinary stunts evening after evening, however their best phantasm was finally, and tragically, uncovered: the concept that these stunning, unique creatures may very well be tamed. “A wild animal is at all times a wild animal,” we hear Roy say early on. “Don’t ever neglect that.”

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