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Siegfried remembered up, down Las Vegas Strip

Updated January 14, 2021 - 8:12 pm

The man who produced the groundbreaking Siegfried & Roy show at the Frontier, and later The Mirage, recalled how legendary magician Siegfried Fischbacher “redefined live entertainment” in Las Vegas.

“Today, the world of magic said goodbye to one of its greatest innovators. Siegfried and Roy took the art of magic to new heights through spectacular illusions while always maintaining his mastery of the close up, sleight-of-hand magic he developed as a young man,” famed producer Kenneth Feld said in a statement Thursday morning.

Fischbacher died Wednesday night of pancreatic cancer at age 81.

“My father, Irvin, and I first met Siegfried and Roy in 1977, collaborating with them on groundbreaking television productions and their first headline production, ‘Beyond Belief,’ at the Frontier,” Feld said. “Ultimately, this led to world tours and our ground-breaking show at The Mirage, which redefined live entertainment in Las Vegas.

“But perhaps Siegfried’s most important legacy will be his commitment to mentoring and inspiring magicians from around the world and championing the art form he loved for generations to come.”

MGM Resorts International paid tribute to the duo and Fischbacher on their Strip resort marquees beginning at 8 a.m. Thursday. A half-dozen workers spruced up the area around the Siegfried & Roy statues as word spread that Fischbacher had passed.

Longtime manager Bernie Yuman recalled the duo’s rise to international fame. Siegfried & Roy performed an extended run in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan, then headlined a record-breaking run at Radio City Music Hall in New York, in between closing at the Frontier and opening at The Mirage.

“There were thoughts within the industry that Siegfried & Roy were indicative of Las Vegas, that their glamor was exclusive to Las Vegas, but they set attendance records in the Far East and in New York,” Yuman said. “In New York, it would have been easier to list who didn’t see the show, than who did.”

The production had a full cast of showgirls and crew, and also 57 exotic cats, a 5-ton elephant and about 400 tons of equipment.

“In all this, it was all Siegfried and Roy. There was no separation, they were never apart,” Yuman said. “They were meant to be.”

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said the S&R show was, for decades, a must-see for Vegas tourists.

“We are just crushed to have lost Siegfried, our wonderful friend and giant entertainer,” Goodman said. “Anyone who came to town, their request was always, ‘I must see Siegfried and Roy!’ They put Las Vegas on the map not only as spectacular illusionists but also as breeders, trainers and caretakers of royal felines, which grew to be an enormous part of their performance.

“Visitors to their personal home had the thrill of seeing the habitat where so many cubs were born and raised. And a trip to The Mirage and the Secret Garden was a treat one never could forget. More importantly than anything, Siegfried was the kindest and most loyal friend and a beautiful individual. What is calming now is to realize is that he is back with his life partner, Roy Horn, and at peace.”

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a statement on behalf of himself and first lady Kathy Sisolak.

“Siegfried Fischbacher was a ‘Master of the Impossible’ and an exemplary Nevadan whose contributions helped shine a bright spotlight on Las Vegas’s entertainment industry to the world,” the governor said. “Kathy and I send our love and condolences to his family, friends and loved ones at this time.”

MGM Resorts International officials also referred to Fischbacher’s passing as the end of an era, when Siegfried & Roy changed the scale of live entertainment on the Strip.

“Siegfried & Roy had a vision for the kind of entertainment spectacular Las Vegas, and the world at large, had never before seen. The Masters of the Impossible delivered so much more than magic nightly and paved the way for all of the incredible productions that followed,” the company said in a statement. “While we will certainly never know another pair like them again, we are grateful for all they meant to MGM Resorts International, to the Las Vegas community and to the world of entertainment. And it’s hard not to imagine them somewhere, reunited, doing two shows nightly, to a perpetual standing ovation.”

Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health founder Larry Ruvo helped present the duo’s “Final Bow” appearance at the 2009 Power of Love gala at Bellagio. He referred to the duo advancing the city’s reputation as the Entertainment Capital of the World, while praising their philanthropy. Horn would eventually seek the Ruvo Center’s services.

“Equally as impressive as their onstage talents is their compassion for others. The kindness and generosity they displayed to animals, their fans and charitable causes and organizations was no illusion,” Ruvo said. “Before Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health opened its doors, Siegfried and Roy were supporters of Keep Memory Alive and remained steadfast as our mission to deliver the world class care of neurodegenerative diseases in Las Vegas came to fruition.

“Little did I know that Roy would later become a patient at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and that we would be instrumental in providing resources and training to assist Siegfried in his role as a caregiver.”

I am eternally grateful for their support and the legacy they leave behind. Siegfried & Roy will be greatly missed, but their magic will live on forever.

In a statement, Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, called Siegfried & Roy “instrumental in helping to shape the entertainment landscape of Las Vegas. Through their decades-long presence on the Strip, both their names and their show became synonymous with our city. Siegfried’s talent, passion and showmanship, in partnership with Roy, has left a permanent legacy on the Entertainment Capital of the World. He will be greatly missed.”

Fischbacher’s friends in the entertainment community say his passing is the end of an era, in our city and internationally.

“Master Magician” Lance Burton last saw Siegfried at the legendary illusionist’s 80th birthday party in June 2019.

“He and Roy both were in great spirits. I said to him, ‘Siegfried, you are the best-looking 80-year-old I have ever seen!’” said Burton, a headliner at Monte Carlo from 1996 to 2010, and before that a featured act in “Folies Bergere” at the Tropicana and a headliner at Hacienda. “He smiled. Thinking of that just now, I am smiling and crying at the same time.”

Burton added, “Today is truly the end of an era in Las Vegas and in the world of magic. Siegfried was for decades the epitome of what a Las Vegas entertainer should be. On stage he was larger than life. A brilliant magician with an original and highly successful show. Along with his Roy, he helped make Las Vegas the Entertainment Capital of the World.”

Fischbacher’s legendary contemporary David Copperfield posted a message to social media, saying, “A legend in magic who — together with Roy — illuminated Las Vegas with illusion. His legacy will live on, not only in magic but in truly shaping the history and future of this city. RIP, Siegfried.”

Penn and Teller turned to the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy when paying homage on social media.

“Both #siegfriedandroy are now gone. They invented the full-length magic show headlining Vegas,” the duo posted @pennandtellerlive. “A very different style than ours, but without S&R there is no #pennandteller in Vegas. Pure showbiz and pure class. They were a team. We are a team. As Tolstoy wrote — Successful magic teams are all the same.”

Mac King, a 20-year headliner at Harrah’s, spoke of how Fischbacher was happy to please fans with close-up magic, even as an international star.

“Of course I feel the way every other magician feels about Siegfried. He paved the way for all of us here in Las Vegas,” King said. “But what I admired about him was that in addition to just being larger than life and an icon, he was also the guy who hung out at the gift shop at The Secret Garden and did coin tricks for kids. Pretty cool combo.”

Siegfried and Roy have long been credited with inspiring the Cirque du Soleil spectacles on the Strip. Cirque CEO Daniel Lamarre alluded to the duo’s pace-setting productions in his statement Thursday.

“Siegfried and Roy’s unique success has been a real inspiration for us at Cirque du Soleil,” Lamarre said. “Both were always present at our premieres and great supporters of our shows. Siegfried will truly be missed.”

Mr. Las Vegas, whose career as a headliner ran in concert with Siegfried & Roy, was a Strip star when the duo arrived to town.

“I am saddened to hear of the loss of my friend Siegfried,” Wayne Newton wrote in a text message. “He meant so much to our city and brought such happiness to people all over the world. I was fortunate to have known him since he and Roy first came to Las Vegas and am comforted in the knowledge that they are now reunited. Rest In Peace my dear friend. You will be missed but never forgotten.”

Fischbacher’s reps ask that donations in his name be made to Keep Memory Alive, the philanthropic arm of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brian Health.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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 @ on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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