Las Vegas Weekly

October 3, 2013

Las Vegas Weekly

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> MAGIC ACT For years, Siegfried and Roy dazzled audiences. Their show's abrupt ending changed the Strip forever. THE MOMENT THE STRIP CHANGED Reflecting on the night that ended Siegfried & Roy's long Vegas reign— and the 10 years since BY STEVE FRIESS T he night Las Vegas changed forever, I was taking in a God-awful local theater version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at some strip-mall shoebox where all the furniture had been requisitioned at local Goodwills or, more likely, dumpsters. This being 2003, performances of edgy LGBT-ish fare were still rare in these parts, so gays of all denominations felt obligated to attend, which is why the moment the show ended and people turned their devices back on, phones and, yes, pagers started beeping all over the place. I don't remember everyone who was there that night, but I do know there were some prominent publicists and executives from what at the time was known as MGM Mirage. And then there was John Wilson, co-founder of the region's dominant ambulance service, next to whom I was standing as he spoke to his dispatchers over the phone. I heard some key words: Mirage. Tiger. Roy. Siegfried. Hospital. He hung up, turned to whoever was near, and in a mutter of shock, said, "You're never going to believe this." Even now, it remains hard to digest. On October 3, 2003, a 380-pound white tiger named Montecore nearly killed his beloved master, the illusionist Roy Horn, onstage in front of thousands of patrons. It was a traumatic, gory news event, the primary focus of which was the fate of Horn. In the week that followed, as he lingered between life and death only to be saved by a heroic but wild surgery that involved removing a piece of his skull and storing it in his abdomen until his cranial swelling subsided, the victim's status largely dominated the story. With the hindsight of a decade, it's somewhat more clear that night is a line of demarcation, an unplanned if inevitable pivot in Las Vegas history of unprecedented and neverrepeated significance. There had been high-profile murders and deaths, of course, that altered the world of politics, the Mob and the music industry writ large. There were casino closures and openings that represented turning points, but they were all reasonably well telegraphed and hyped. More onstage accidents would happen, too, even resulting in death, but those shows would, eventually, go on and on and on. The Siegfried & Roy show, of course, did not. It ceased to exist in an instant, and with it an entire genre of Las Vegas entertainment was replaced. Some would suggest that this was inevitable, that the duo was getting on in years and bound to abdicate the gigantic marquee, but nobody associated with the production felt that way. I had a shortlived fling with one of the show's dancers, and that September he was just finishing up his business degree at UNLV. His plan was to stuff the degree in his back pocket for a few years because "I've got a job that I can keep as long as I want it." The job vanished a couple weeks later, and he vanished days after his December graduation to perform on a cruise ship somewhere. It would be too simple to say the tiger attack short-circuited the era of garish Vegas shows featuring dangerous animals. They did kick around for a little after, mostly in the form of journeyman illusionist Rick Thomas, who now largely tours around Europe, according to his website. Today, they don't really exist in any serious way OCTOBER 3–9, 2013 LASVEGASWEEKLY.COM 16-22_Feature_20131003.indd 21 21 10/2/13 5:12 PM

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