When I first woke this morning and saw images of Siegfried & Roy in my feed, I thought that A) Roy Horn was already out of ICU after entertaining his nurses all week with card tricks, and B) maybe the recent interest in glamorous tiger handlers meant that the legendary Vegas duo would be getting their own Netflix special. But instead, Roy Horn, one of the original Tiger Kings, has died at 75.
TMZ shared the news last night, and despite the earlier reports that Roy had been responding well to treatment, he did in fact succumb to COVID-19 complications a little more than a week after testing positive. According to a statement TMZ received from Siegfried:
“Today, the world has lost one of the greats of magic, but I have lost my best friend. From the moment we met, I knew Roy and I, together, would change the world. There could be no Siegfried without Roy, and no Roy without Siegfried.”
Siegfried goes on … “Roy was a fighter his whole life, including during these final days. 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.”
Born Uwe (pronounced Ooo-va) Ludwig Horn in Nordenham, Germany in 1944, Roy’s fascination with big pussies started early. His mother’s friend’s husband founded the Bremen Zoo and allowed a 10-year old Roy to frolic with various types of exotic animals––including tigers. Eventually, Roy grew up and decided to take a job waiting tables on cruise ships, which is where he met Siegfried.
The two shared a mutual love of flashy costumes and giant cats––so it was only a matter of time before they combined their passions and set up a nightclub act at sea. One day, the owner of Bremen’s Astoria Theater saw Siegfried and Roy’s act aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean and recruited the duo to perform the same over-the-top show in her nightclub. A move to Las Vegas in 1967 and subsequent performances in various casinos––including their iconic Beyond Belief show at the New Frontier Hotel in 1981––cemented their global reputation as the magical campy kings of the strip.
Some have estimated that at the height of their success, Siegfried and Roy were making $10 million a year from these shows (that’s a lot of mascara and Meow Mix).
Of course, all of that high-flying showmanship was jeopardized in 2003 when Roy was almost killed, mid-show, by one of the couple’s signature cats. Mantacore, a seven-year-old white tiger, lunged at Roy’s arm in the middle of a performance, kicking out his leg and pinning the host to the floor. Mantacore then bit into Roy’s neck, severing his spine and injuring some of the entertainer’s internal organs before dragging him offstage. The explanation was that Roy had a stroke onstage and Mantacore was trying to protect him, but Siegfried & Roy’s tiger handler said last year that the attack happened because of a mistake made by Roy. Roy survived but was left with permanent loss of certain motor and verbal abilities. Roy also insisted that no harm come to Mantacore.
Siegfried & Roy’s final performance happened in 2009 before the duo officially retired in 2010.
On April 28, Roy’s publicist announced that he had contracted COVID-19, and although there were confirmed reports that he was on the mend, Roy died of COVID-19 complications––likely because of the past trauma and pre-existing illnesses as a result of the Mantacore attack.