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Siegfried Fischbacher owned the spotlight until the end

Updated January 14, 2021 - 6:38 pm

The way Siegfried Fischbacher walked across a room was magic.

He strode like a superstar, rod-strait, with a purposeful gait. I’d catch him moving through a crowd at the MGM Grand during the Power of Love gala, or the Las Vegas Philharmonic event at Bellagio. He’d rest a hand on the front of his jacket, freeing the other to wave regally at well-wishers.

He was fine with posing for pics, dressed for the moment. He’d review the photos on phones, checking the lighting and sometimes directing, “Let’s move back a few steps.” If a woman was to be in the shot, it was, “Put the pretty in the middle.”

His style was to enforce style. Once, at the celebration of life for Tony Sacca at The Strat (then the Stratosphere) in February 2017, he took note of a black dress shirt I wore under a gray jacket. He said, “Make it more showy,” and pulled the shirt collar out over the jacket lapels. “There!” he said. Maybe not ready for the stage, but some Vegas flair.

Whenever we chatted, Siegfried would often start his responses with “always.” As in, “Always, with the questions!” and feign frustration. So melodramatic, from someone so prepped for the spotlight.

Siegfried Fischbacher’s death Wednesday night of pancreatic cancer came just eight months after Roy Horn passed from COVID-19. It was appropriate that they departed the stage so close together. Siegfried & Roy’s success as an entertainment team was merely an extension of their shared personal dedication.

They were confidants, closer than friends, in my time with them. I remember the lavish news conference in February 2001 at The Mirage announcing their “lifetime contract,” which was mostly a means to return the duo to center stage on a Monday afternoon.

The two comically bickered like an old married couple at the podium, with Horn saying they needed rooms at opposite ends of their estate so they could keep a healthy distance between himself and his partner.

Lost in that announcement was the workload the duo had assumed: eight shows a week, 44 weeks a year, a schedule that seems like science-fiction for the headliners who followed.

Less than eight months after that “lifetime” announcement, Roy was nearly killed when he was dragged offstage by white tiger Mantecore (called Montecore in those days). At that point, it was conceivable Siegfried could summon a solo entertainment career or company, given the undeniable success of S&R’s live production. But those who knew the duo understood independent careers could never work.

Their alliance was too strong.

It would be impossible to overstate the commitment these two shared, far from the stage. I’ve told the story, over the years, about how I saw them a few times at the Las Vegas Athletic Club, with Siegfried helping Roy stay focused through his grueling physical therapy sessions. “You can do it!” Siegfried shouted from one of the treadmills lined up for club members.

Another afternoon, I spotted the two legends as I was seated on a bench at the lockers, about to head out to the gym.

“You are stalking us!” Siegfried called out. I laughed, “I’m not that dedicated.”

The two hit the scene on occasion, in later years at Roy’s birthday party in October 2018, when the celebrant memorably said, “The show never ends.” Siegfried showed off his dance skills, doing the salsa with a few former showgirls at the event.

S&R also were annual guests at the Golden Rainbow Ribbon of Life HIV/AIDS charity show. They also threw their support behind fellow magicians. They attended Hans Klok’s show at Excalibur in July 2019 — their last outing together at a Strip show.

Aside from their “final bow” at the 2009 Keep Memory Alive Power of Love gala, the only public performances by either entertainer were Siegfried’s recurring drop-ins to the Secret Garden at The Mirage. His bit was to grab the forearm of a visitor, then make an official Siegfried & Roy token appear. If you have one, hold onto it.

S&R has one piece of unfinished business, the biopic about the duo headed up by German director Michael “Bully” Herbig and UFA Fiction. Siegfried had been raking through the script as recently as September 2019. Plans are reportedly still moving forward to finish that project.

The future of Little Bavaria, S&R’s 100-acre habitat and mansion, is yet to be determined. Reports from Germany are the duo had planned to leave the bulk of their estate to the city of Las Vegas, though neither Mayor Carolyn Goodman nor former Mayor Oscar Goodman have been involved in such talks. Certainly, donations are encouraged to Keep Memory Alive and the Ruvo Center.

Near the end of his life, Siegfried took his last bow at The Mirage, where Siegfried & Roy made history for 14 years and 5,750 performances. It was at the dedication of Siegfried and Roy Drive at the front of the hotel, right there on the Strip.

Siegfried stepped out of a large black sedan, wearing a collarless, cobalt-blue, lace-style jacket, black shirt and shades. Cars honked as he posed under the new sign, a wildly random, only-in-Vegas moment.

I’ll remember him that way, taking over the Strip one last time, looking every bit the legend.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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