Siegfried & Roy: For decades it was the most glamorous and successful, but also the best paid duo of illusionists, magicians and tamers in the world with increasingly opulent shows in Las Vegas that were sold out every day for years. In the 1970s they were named the best magicians of the year several times in a row. Hollywood couldn’t have invented this team better for the film.
The unique success story ended abruptly on October 3rd, 2003. Roy had celebrated his 59th birthday; a few hours later, one of his beloved white tigers injured him critically in the evening on the next show. Roy was paralyzed on one side until his death as a result of Covid-19 in May 2020. Unforgettable and touching their last ten-minute performance together in 2009, which also featured Mantecore, the tiger who had injured Roy so badly six years earlier.
It had all started more than half a century earlier: In 1960, 21-year-old Siegfried and 16-year-old Uwe Horn, as Roy was still called back then, were independently employed as a page and waiter on a luxury cruise ship. In addition, they performed magic for the guests until the captain of the ship had the glorious idea of having both perform together in the ballroom. Always part of the party and the highlight: Uwe’s cheetah “Chico”, which the Bremen Zoo gave him as a 13-year-old and which initially shocked the 300 spectators when he appeared alone and without a leash. There are magical black-and-white photos of this coincidental “couple”, who at that time still appeared as “Siegfried and Partner” and who only became one in their work and life.
Two good-looking men instead of an omnipotent magician with a scantily clad assistant
They can be seen in a ZDF film in the historic “Ballhaus” in Rosenheim. On the occasion of their appearance in the “Astoria” in Bremen, the Hansa-Theater in Hamburg or in the “Lido” in Paris in 1968, it emphasizes what a special feature it was at the time that instead of an omnipotent magician plus a scantily clad assistant, two good-looking men are now Equally and no less charmingly exploring the boundaries of reality and fantasy and lifting them again and again. The film is one of seven documentaries that are at the center of an exhibition that the duo in the hometown of Siegfried Fischbacher is paying tribute to for the first time after Roy’s death in May 2020 and Siegfried’s death in January 2021.
Born in Rosenheim, Siegfried was the shy child of a war-traumatized, alcoholic father, whom he was nevertheless able to take for himself with an early magic trick. It was here that a lifelong basic trust was formed for Siegfried, who has always remained connected to his hometown. Today he is one of the great sons of the city and both the three AfD members of the city council as well as the green home nurse and first chairman of the historical association Rosenheim, Karl-Heinz Brauner, initiator and one of the organizers of the commemorative exhibition, want an appropriate, permanent honor of the duo.
But that’s not that easy, even if the family lives here and keeps the memory. But the foundation of the two magicians in Las Vegas with an estimated fortune between 125 and 200 million has neither left anything to the family nor provided exhibits for the memorial exhibition in Rosenheim. It was therefore largely carried out on a voluntary basis and, in the beautiful neoclassical “ballroom” of the city from 1926, half a year after Siegfried’s death, it commemorates the two magicians.
Now there are lots of beautifully framed photos lined up on the walls, showing Siegfried and Roy alongside all kinds of celebrities such as Liz Taylor, Tina Turner and Sylvester Stallone, through King Gustav of Sweden to Pope John Paul II. A large-format oil painting from the property the great niece Jenny Fischbacher after a sophisticated (fashion) photo of the young Siegfried with cigarillo can be admired as well as a large-format print of the original. You can leaf through and read with amusement in a folder with old newspaper clippings from the 1960s to 1990s. The headline printed in early years was: “A Rosenheimer does magic around the world” or “What does a cheetah do in Rosenheim?”.
Lots of fan articles such as mugs, calendars, autograph cards or a Christmas greeting with the likeness of Siegfried & Roy & Johannes Paul II, which was often sent at the time, adorn the showcases in the entrance area. And on a kind of imaginary show staircase to the first floor, in front of Siegfried and Roy as cardboard comrades, there are lots of white (plush) tigers, as they are still today next to white lions, black panthers and snow leopards in a zoo called “Secret Garden” in the hotel complex be bred behind the “Mirage”. Here Siegfried & Roy presented their show, which became more and more elaborate, including the use of a huge mechanically moved kite made of metal. At the entrance, the long out of print autobiographical and opulently illustrated book, published in 1992 by Bruckmann Verlag, can be purchased at a special price.
The look that the artist Jörg Länger found for his pictures, which look like silhouettes in white and Siegfried and Roy, is very different from the exuberant confectioner’s style in the house of the two in Las Vegas, which can be described as the tuna baroque to the power of three show several times with and without their tigers. As in a negative, they are intended to mark the blank left by the death of the two magicians and flank the entrance to the exhibition, while the actual hall is delimited by large canvases on which photos have been printed that have already become iconographic. Such is the rare, beautiful snapshot during a guided tour through the halls of the Vatican, which shows Roy and Siegfried’s sister Margot, who is known as Sister Dolores as a nun, and who is unobserved in the venerable walls in an animated conversation.
An explicit coming-out at the time might have harmed the incredible career
There was little need to speculate about the relationship between the two men, nor did they comment on their civil partnership for life, as it was still a criminal offense for a long time in America in the second half of the 20th century. An explicit coming-out at the time might have harmed the incredible career, and yet it was obvious to everyone. The private partnership lasted until 1998 and intensified again after Roy’s tragic accident. Professionally, it lasted a lifetime anyway.
“Siegfried and Roy – Two German Legends” is the name of the latest film from May 2021 about the duo. It can be seen in the exhibition at certain times, but is also available in the ZDF media library. There are also six other films that are shown alternately, such as the legendary 3D Imax film “The Masters of Illusion”, a compilation of their show in Las Vegas or various TV appearances with Alfred Biolek, Stefan Raab, Thomas Gottschalk or “Bet that..?” and private photos of the family, including pictures from the orphanage in Romania, which Sister Dolores founded and which the two magicians repeatedly supported financially.
There are also live performances by various magicians, the repetition of an enlightening and funny conversation with sister Dolores and Karl-Heinz Wunschelmeier, the founder of the “Sarmoti” fan club, such as the program of the magicians in Las Vegas as an acronym for “Siegfried and Roy, Masters of the Impossible “, as well as a lecture on the history of magic.
In Memoriam Siegfried & Roy, Ballhaus Rosenheim, Weinstrasse 12, daily until September 15 (2 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.), free admission, all dates and further information at: www.siegfriedandroyinmemoriam.de.