Siegfried Fischbacher dead: Big cat performer, illusionist dies at 81

Siegfried Fischbacher, half of the illusionist duo Siegfried & Roy — who at their peak were the most popular act on the Las Vegas Strip — died on Wednesday at age 81.

Fischbacher announced he had terminal pancreatic cancer in early January, and he died of the disease at his Las Vegas home.

German publication Bild confirmed the news Thursday.

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The other half of the pair, Roy Horn, died at 75 in 2020 from complications of COVID-19.

Fischbacher had a malignant tumour removed in a 12-hour operation last year, but the cancer was found to have spread throughout his body. He chose to die at home under the supervision of private health care practitioners, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

His most recent public appearance in Las Vegas was in late August, at the dedication of Siegfried & Roy Drive at The Mirage casino, where Siegfried & Roy performed exclusively.

The act, which most notably featured lions and tigers performing stunts, sold out to eager crowds for 12 years, until Horn was dragged offstage by a big white tiger, Montecore, in 2003. The incident — the pair never called it an “attack,” insisting that the cat was actually trying to save Horn — took place in front of a live audience and essentially killed the act.

The darker-haired of the flashy duo, Horn was credited with the idea of introducing an exotic animal — his pet cheetah — to the magic act.

“Roy was a fighter his whole life including during these final days,” Fischbacher said at the time of Horn’s death. “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.”

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The two became an institution in Las Vegas, and performed six shows a week, 44 weeks per year.

They returned to the stage in February 2009 for what was billed as their one and only comeback performance, to raise funds for the new Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. The brief performance, which included Montecore, became the basis of an episode of the ABC television show 20/20.

Horn and Fischbacher, both natives of Germany, had first teamed up in 1957 and made their Las Vegas debut a decade later. Siegfried & Roy began performing at the Mirage in 1990.

When they signed a lifetime contract with the Mirage in 2001, it was estimated they had performed 5,000 shows at the casino for 10 million fans since 1990 and had grossed more than $1 billion. That came on top of thousands of shows at other venues in earlier years.

“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 and Roy,” Terry Lanni, chairman of MGM Mirage, the casino’s parent company, said after the attack.

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The pair gained international recognition for helping to save rare white tigers and white lions from extinction. Their $10-million compound was home to dozens of rare animals over the years. The white lions and white tigers were the result of a preservation program that began in the 1980s.

Siegfried & Roy’s show, incorporating animal antics and magic tricks, included about 20 white tigers and lions, the number varying depending on the night. The show also had other exotic animals, including an elephant.

Fischbacher is survived by his sister Dolore, a nun living in Munich, Germany.

— with files from The Associated Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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