EDITOR’S NOTE: “Vegas Myths Busted” publishes new entries every Monday, with a bonus Flashback Friday edition. Today’s entry in our ongoing series originally ran on Sept. 2, 2022.
Could Siegfried & Roy have put the ultimate illusion over on their fans? According to a popular myth surrounding the German-born magic duo, Roy Horn was replaced by a lookalike before the launch of their long-running show at the Mirage Las Vegas in 1990.
According to the myth, Fischbacher replaced Horn after he died of a horrible disease in an attempt to preserve the famous act that generated a reported $45 million per year. In this story, Fischbacher replaced him with Horn’s younger cousin. He treated “Roy 2” to crash courses in animal training and illusion, gave him a piece of the duo’s action, and had him undergo cosmetic surgery to look more like Horn.
Siegfried & Roy captivated Las Vegas audiences for 36 years by performing elaborate, dangerous magic tricks with big cats. These tricks were so dangerous that Horn nearly died on stage performing one in 2003. The injuries he sustained from being bitten in the neck by a white tiger named Mantacore, which included a crushed windpipe and partial paralysis, ended their career.
But some conspiracy theorists still believe this was the second tragedy to befall the act.
Lie of the Tiger
“The myth was widespread,” says Mike Weatherford, entertainment writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 1987 to 2017. “Most conspiracy theories have some element of plausibility, and this was fueled by their playing in Japan while the Mirage was being built, which would have given them time to break in his cousin or whomever,” Weatherford said.
Not that Shirley MacLaine has ever been a reliable gauge for true things, but Weatherford remembers conducting a 1990 interview with the actress in which she 100% endorsed the myth.
She even said she knew someone who had attended his funeral,” Weatherford said, adding that he doesn’t remember if he was able to keep a straight face or not.
At one point, the R-J even saw fit to publish a denial from the Clark County Coroner’s Office that a death certificate was ever written for Horn.
Celebrity impostors weren’t entirely unknown to show business. Buy a ticket to prop-comic Gallagher at the time, and you could have seen either the real one, Leo Gallagher, or his lookalike younger brother, Ron Gallagher. (Leo eventually sued his brother for trademark violations and false advertising, and won.)
But the wholesale replacement of an A-list celebrity, both in public and private, went leagues beyond this. In fact, it was preposterous.
In case there are still any doubters out there, Weatherford said Horn spotted and greeted him backstage following a Siegfried & Roy performance at Radio City Music Hall in September 1989, which would have been no easy feat for a replacement.
The replacement Roy myth gained traction because it was fun to speculate about. Finally, fans felt let in on a secret about an act that had kept such a notoriously tight lid on their personal lives. They searched for clues in the pair’s publicity photos and during their shows. Something seemed “off” about Roy, some insisted. He acted strange. He looked different. It was much like the “Paul is dead” rumor that dogged Paul McCartney at the time of the Beatles’ 1969 breakup.
I went to YouTube and looked at some early pics of Roy in his younger days and compared them with pics of the present Roy — they are clearly NOT the same man!!!!” a woman named Cheryl commented below a internet article about the myth at the time.
Of course, plastic surgery to look younger than his 46 years was an exponentially more plausible reason for any different look Roy might have sported at the time, and also something the private duo would never have copped to.
Nor was this the only myth to surround the legendary magic men. A 2020 podcast, “Wild Things: Siegfried & Roy,” theorized that the 2003 tiger attack was attempted murder, either by animal activists, a terrorist, or homophobes in the audience who did something to intentionally trigger Mantacore.
“Siegfried & Roy were always larger than life and never quite seen as real people,” Weatherford said. “I guess there was the occasional downside to that.”
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