My time with Siegfried & Roy

Super fan attended hundreds of shows, got to know duo well


By Helen Hoverud


Helen Hoverud posed for a photo with Roy Horn and Siegfried Fischbacher, stars of Siegfried & Roy after a performance at the Mirage, one of hundreds she attended. This particular show, in 2001, was special as it was their 5,000th show. Hoverud gave them a gift that day -- a star named after them. The certificates are pictured. Contributed photo

To say that the Siegfried & Roy show at The Mirage in Las Vegas was “the greatest show on earth” is an understatement. At least that’s my perspective. I was in the audience for more than 250 of their shows. To witness a three ton elephant disappear, a woman turned into a tiger and Siegfried magically appearing in the middle of the audience were just a few of the highlights. The most common response from those seated around me was: “How did they do that?” I still don’t know the answer.


The journey for me began when my mother, her sister and I would travel west every August camping in National Parks and visiting other historic sights. When we reached Las Vegas we would spend three nights in a downtown hotel. My mom and my aunt would do their thing while I drove around checking out The Strip, the free shows and other freebies from the various hotels. I noticed a billboard featuring Siegfried & Roy, where they performed in a show with several other acts including The Jackson Five. I did not attend that show.


A year or so later, I had to check out a new hotel - The Mirage. Inside the hotel, I was immediately drawn to an enclosed area featuring two white tigers. I have always been an animal lover - especially bears, wolves and big cats - so I stood there for two hours watching the tigers as handlers would interact with them. Nearby there was a sign advertising Siegfried & Roy’s show in the hotel, which I had heard a bit about. I immediately went to the box office to try to get tickets. They were available three days ahead of time but were all sold out. This was my experience every August.


In 1993 my mom, aunt and I were planning to attend a wedding in Colorado on our way out west. I decided to call ahead to get tickets for Siegfried & Roy as a surprise for my mom’s early September birthday. Unfortunately, our regular June trip to Florida ended in Mississippi with an auto accident on our way home. My mother was killed and I was permanently disabled.


A few years later, I decided to fly out to Las Vegas intent on seeing the show. It was a life-changing experience for me! I decided to go again a few months later. I did this two or three times each time I was in Vegas, always getting tickets closer to the stage.


In front of the stage was a runway starting from the middle going out about 100 feet and circling around an area of seats on both sides of the stage known as “The Pit.” (Think: orchestra pit.) I assumed this was an area where celebrities and other important people were seated. As a theatre major I’ve always liked to sit close to the stage, so, one visit when I picked up my tickets I asked the box office if I could get seats in the pit. They told me that they didn’t usually sell those seats over the phone because most people thought it was too close. I said, “That’s what I want.” They told me to ask for B-1-3. That became my seat from that time on. It was in the pit right in the corner at the end of the runway.


I continued to fly to Vegas two or three times a year seeing the show each time. Originally S & R performed two shows a night Thursday through Tuesday and were dark on Wednesdays. The first show was at 7:30 p.m. and the second at 11 p.m. By the time I started to see the show it was dark on Wednesday and Thursday with two shows the other five evenings at 7:30 and 11 p.m. As I continued to attend the show, each time I would meet someone who had seen the show before. Some would see the show two nights in a row. WOW, I thought, I could do that.


Eventually, The Secret Garden at The Mirage opened. This was an outdoor area where all of Siegfried and Roy’s animals lived and was now open to the public during the day. One could see the white tigers, the white striped tigers, orange tigers, white lions, a black panther and Gildah, the elephant. It was here I met someone who said she went to two shows a night. I decided I needed to do that.


Siegfried & Roy was the top show at The Mirage for many years. Here is a show banner taken during the 1990s, the peak of their popularity. Stock photo

After seeing a few more shows, I was invited backstage by Siegfried. This was a meet and greet event after a show with photo ops. Backstage guests were given an autographed program and a white striped tiger stuffed animal. Usually it was just Siegfried backstage but Roy would be there sometimes, too. Siegfried would say, “I tink ve need Roy.” Then Roy would appear. Siegfried was the people person, Roy was the animal person. It was fun to hear Siegfried’s many stories. Sometimes there were as many as 20 people backstage. The most fun was when I was the only one invited backstage.


I was quite shocked to learn early on that Siegfried had comped my seat. When I thanked him as he shook my hand at the end of the next show, he smiled and said in his German accent, “eet es my pleasure.” I continued to be invited backstage and get a comp seat or two for most of the trips I made. Siegfried also handed out comp Secret Garden passes backstage. One time there were about 10 people backstage. Siegfried had several Secret Garden passes in his hand and was trying to decide who to give them to. He pivoted on his heel as he turned to me and handed me all six of the tickets, saying, “I know you go.”


I continued to meet more and more fans from around the world. We became friends and would do things together during the day and see the shows in the evening. We would keep in contact between Vegas trips after we returned home. Eventually some of us became roommates at The Mirage when we were there at the same time to see shows. Most of the fans had their own particular seat that they preferred for the show. Many sat in the pit. When I arrived at the first show on Sunday, I’d look around the pit and front area and I’d see familiar faces each time. Most fans or “regulars” as Siegfried called us were either a “Siegfried person” or a “Roy person.”


After meeting many “regulars” some began to talk about the New Year’s Eve show, and that it was pretty spectacular. So, I decided to check that out. After the show, Siegfried’s assistant came to my seat and said, “Mr. Siegfried and Mr. Roy would like to invite you upstairs to their New Year’s Eve party.” WOW, I thought, that sounded like fun. Soon I was directed along with several other “regulars” upstairs to Siegfried and Roy’s apartment. They didn’t live there. It was a place where they hung out between shows and rehearsals. It was also where they would entertain celebrity guests, like Liz Taylor and Michael Jackson, etc. when they attended the show. The party included food and drink as well as live music and photo ops with the two. Other guests were dancers and others involved with the show, ushers, and Roy’s mom and some of her friends.


About the third year I attended the New Year’s Eve shows, The Mirage added on to the hotel to include several showrooms - Danny Gans for one- as well as a large ballroom. From that time on the New Year’s party was held in the ballroom. There was much more space, a larger live music group, more food and room for dancing. Many other Las Vegas performers would also make an appearance at the party. It was fun to be able to meet them, too. Every year I looked forward to the best shrimp cocktails I have ever had. Siegfried and Roy were always the most gracious hosts. They would go to each table and talk to those who were seated there. I was fortunate to be invited to any party they held when I attended any of the shows as were some other “regulars.”


Sometimes when a “regular” had a birthday, after the show a few of us would be taken to a larger dressing room and Siegfried and Roy would arrive a bit later and we would visit there for an hour or two with food and drink and photos, of course. Three times when I attended the show on my birthday, I received roses from Siegfried. Any time they did anything for me I always sent a “Thank You” to the box office and they would see that it was delivered to S & R backstage.


In April of 2000 as I was getting ready for the show one evening, a cousin called and said that he and his family were going to be in Vegas in June and that they would like to see the show. I said that I would be there again in June and suggested they come when I would be there. They decided to do so. Later that evening after I attended the show Siegfried invited me backstage. I told him I would be back in June with my cousin and his family. He replied, “Bring dem back, I vant to meet dem all.” So, of course there was a meet and greet and photos for all again in June. This also happened when another group of cousins went to Vegas when I did. Siegfried enjoyed that visit because one of the women was born in Germany a few years after he was. Siegfried always loved meeting people and talking with them.


I was delighted to be able to sit in “my seat” B-1 3. At the end of each show Siegfried and Roy would shake hands with some of the people in the first row of the pit. I was the first person Siegfried shook hands with. This is when he would sometimes invite me backstage. “I vant to see you,” he would say. Other times before a show an usher would tell me: Mr. Siegfried & Mr. Roy would like to see you backstage after the show.” Sometimes, Keith, Siegfried’s assistant, would come to my seat and tell me the same thing after the show. These invites always made me realize how fortunate I was.


Another good reason to sit in B-1-3 was when Roy would bring out Mantacore, a white tiger (my favorite). Mantacore would sit on the stage right in front of me and often his tail was in my lap or he would move his tail and it would flick my nose or face. WOW! Just before the show began there was always an announcement telling the audience to avoid putting anything on the stage or runway and not to touch the animals. So, of course, I never touched Mantacore. The announcement said nothing about animals touching people!


Some evenings just before the start of the show right after the “don’t touch the animals” plea there would be a slight pause as the lights went to total darkness for two minutes. I learned that this was a time that VIPs would be ushered into their seats unknown to the general audience. They would usually be seated in the same booth across the runway from “my seat.” When the lights came back on I’d look across to that booth and often recognize celebrities. I saw Liz Taylor and Michael Jackson each on two separate occasions. Before The Mirage, when Siegfried and Roy performed with other acts at other venues the Jackson Five performed in the same show. The story was told that the young Michael Jackson was fascinated by the animals and the magic but he was scared to death of Siegfried. Whenever Siegfried came near him he would run away because he was afraid Siegfried would make him disappear. Apparently, he got over that because he wrote and performed Siegfried and Roy’s theme song for the show at The Mirage: The Mind in The Magic.


Another reason I loved “my seat” was because every once in a while one of the tigers or lions would give birth. As the babies got a bit older Siegfried and Roy would bring them out during the show and allow audience touching rights. This would always happen near “my seat.” The first time they brought the cubs out when I was there I almost tripped over someone to pet the babies a few seats away from mine. Siegfried must have noticed this because from that time on if they brought cubs out when I was there he brought them right in front of my seat so I could pet them. I had the opportunity to pet at least 20 different babies at various times when I attended the show.


Another highlight of the show for me which occurred near “my seat” was when an animated skeleton walked out onstage. Siegfried spoke to this skeleton calling her “Mable.” Even though my mother died before she got to see the show, I felt she was there every night when the skeleton walked out. My mother’s name was Mable.


Siegfried said many times. “Der is no such ting as coincidence.”


Siegfried was born June 13, 1939 in Rosenheim in Bavaria. At the age of 8 he saw a book in a store about magic. This book fascinated him. He couldn’t explain it. He wanted to buy the book but he did not have 5 marks. His parents couldn’t afford to give him the money to buy the book. One day he was trying to balance while walking on a curb as many children do. He almost fell off and as he looked down, there on the street was a 5 mark coin. He grabbed it and ran to the store to buy the book on magic. When he took the book home his parents thought he had stolen it so they brought him back to the store to return it. The storekeeper told his parents that he had paid for it. He studied this book more than any school book he ever had. He learned to do many magic tricks. Siegfried’s Father had been in the war and when he returned home, Siegfried always said “he was a changed man.” So, Siegfried would try out every new trick he learned on his father hoping to bring him some joy. Every time, his father would ask, “How did you do that?”


Siegfried Fischbacher stopped for a photo with Helen Hoverud after a show at the Mirage in 1999. It was a show to celebrate Siegfried’s 50th birthday. Contributed photo

Siegfried continued to learn and perfect more magic. He had always thought he would become a priest, but as he continued with the magic, it won out. (His sister is a nun.) He eventually began doing magic shows on cruise ships. This is where the story of Siegfried & Roy begins.


Roy was born Uwe Ludwig Horn on Oct. 3, 1944 in Nordenham, Germany, on the day of a military attack in that city. His mother had to bicycle to a friend’s house to give birth to her child in a safe zone. As Uwe (Roy) grew older he spent much of his time at a zoo owned by his aunt and uncle feeding the animals and helping with other tasks. This was his playground. His favorite animal was the cheetah, and they had a strong bond.


Eventually Roy became the bellhop of the captain of a German cruise ship the T.S. Bremen. This was the same ship where Siegfried was doing his magic show. Soon Siegfried & Roy met and Roy attended Siegfried’s magic show. After the show they had a drink together at the bar and Siegfried asked Roy what he thought of the show. Siegfried was taken aback when Roy didn’t seem very impressed. Roy asked Siegfried if he’d ever considered having a cheetah in his show. After a bit, Siegfried replied, “in magic, anything is possible.”


The cruise ended and the ship and Siegfried and Roy went back to shore. When the next cruise sailed, they were a few days offshore when Roy told Siegfried he had something in his cabin he’d like to show him. Siegfried met him there and was shocked beyond belief and frightened to see a live cheetah sitting on Roy’s bed. Roy told him he had smuggled the cheetah from his aunt and uncle’s zoo onto the ship in his laundry bag. Siegfried said, “Ve’re in a lot of trouble.”


Siegfried figured out ways to use the cheetah in his show and Roy became his assistant as he helped with the cheetah. At the end of the show the cheetah walked in the aisle between the audience with Roy behind him. The audience was fascinated. They had never been that close to a cheetah. Eventually Siegfried and Roy offered cruise participants a chance to have a photo with them and the cheetah. The captain wasn’t very happy about that. Cruise guests were always welcome to have a photo with the captain. Most cruisers were more interested in having a picture with a cheetah.


Many of these cruise participants were famous actors and actresses from Europe and America. Grace Kelly was one. Word spread about the show. Eventually Siegfried and Roy were offered a show in Monte Carlo and at a nightclub in Paris as well as other places. This led to an opportunity to perform for sellout crowds at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and ultimately a part in a show in Las Vegas.

Editor’s Note: Siegfried Fischbacher died of cancer in January, eight months after the death of his longtime business partner, Roy Horn, who died of complications from COVID-19. The Siegfried & Roy show ended on Oct. 3, 2003, after Horn, on his 59th birthday, was mauled by a 400-pound white tiger during a performance at the Mirage. The Siegfried & Roy show is considered one of the most successful Las Vegas shows.

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