Originally created 10/13/03

Siegfried and Roy earn respect after tiger attack



LAS VEGAS -- Comedians, radio shock jocks and fellow magicians loved to poke fun at the eccentric Germans in glittery, futuristic outfits who for decades pranced around with white tigers on a Las Vegas stage.

Every late-night talk show host since Johnny Carson has gotten a laugh at the expense of the long-running "Siegfried and Roy" spectacle.

Fellow Las Vegas magician Penn Jillette and partner Teller bill themselves as the anti-Siegfried and Roy. Jillette has called the stars "big hair Germans that torture endangered species."

Howard Stern has made relentless fun of them, and Steve Martin joked during the 73rd Annual Academy Awards that the movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" sounds "like something Siegfried and Roy do on vacation."

But since a 600-pound Royal White tiger nearly killed Roy Horn during a sold-out Oct. 3 performance at The Mirage hotel-casino, many of the jabs have lost their appeal and the legendary animal trainer seems to have earned new respect.

Frank Marino, the star of "An Evening at La Cage" at the Riviera hotel-casino, removed Siegfried and Roy jokes from his monologue after the attack.

Jillette visited the hospital where Horn, 59, was hospitalized in critical condition. Jillette and Teller removed all references to the duo in their nightly show, and also stopped running anti-Siegfried and Roy advertisements.

"Every magician in Vegas had to rewrite their show," Jillette said.

Stern, one of the duo's harshest lampooners, shared a new perspective this week during his radio show.

"They finally get our respect," he said.

The attack served as reminder that the show was dangerous - very dangerous. That was no illusion.

"It's not a game," said Louis Dorfman, a Dallas animal behaviorist who works with tigers. "These cats have instincts and they have no inhibitions. They are predators."

Bernie Yuman, the duo's manager, said people took the act for granted because the "consummate professional makes it look easy."

After more than 5,500 performances at The Mirage since 1990 and $44 million a year in revenues, the show was one of the most successful acts in the history of Las Vegas.

But in its October issue, Vanity Fair offered its own interpretation of what writer A.A. Gill termed the "worst specialty show" ever.

"Everyone's really here to see the white carnivores, hoping against hope that just maybe, just once, the tables will turn," Gill wrote.

"Sadly, not this time."

That incensed Siegfried Fischbacher, interviewed this week at his Las Vegas home.

"Why did they come back over and over again?" he asked. "Because they felt it was true. They believed."

Efforts to reach Gill for comment were unsuccessful.

"Everyone at Vanity Fair wishes Roy Horn a swift and full recovery," spokeswoman Beth Kseniak said.

Two days before the tiger assault, The Onion, an online satirical weekly, ran a story supposedly written by "Roy Uwe Ludwig Horn." The spoof took gentle aim at the outrageousness of the animal-magic act that includes everything from dragons to codpieces.

"Did you enjoy the white tigers? Most people love the white lions and the white tigers. Siegfried and I often fight over which of us should get the spotlight, but in the end, the star of the show is always the cats," the magazine wrote, not missing the mark by much.

Carol Kolb, Onion editor-in-chief, said her writers were feeling contrite after the attack. They wish the exotic cat gurus no ill will.

"I think we all feel bad about what happened to Roy," Kolb said.

She offered an explanation for why people enjoy ribbing the headliners and why they make such an easy target.

"They are larger than life," Kolb said. "They are so over the top. It's so easy to make fun of them."

Jillette said the duo has never been offended by his past jokes - they know they are comic fodder.

"They do stupid tricks with animals," he said. "Part of my job is to make jokes about them. Part of their job is to take it. We love our jobs."