Las Vegas Weekly

October 3, 2013

Las Vegas Weekly

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on the Strip. But it's much more than that. There is a direct connection between the loss of Siegfried & Roy and the accelerated rise of Cirque du Soleil. Remember, one reason Cirque became so popular and buzzy in the first place was that it was a circus without animals or name-brand stars—two variables that made an act like Siegfried & Roy especially vulnerable to disaster. (The rise of Broadway, too, can be seen as a post-S&R risk-averse strategy, one that deployed famous concepts but not, in the long term anyway, famous people.) When Montecore attacked Roy, Vegas had two juggernaut Cirque shows—O and Mystère—and one struggling new one, Zumanity. KÀ was on its way, but that seemed the outer limit of Cirque occupation on account of its exclusive relationship with MGM Mirage and the scarcity of showrooms. KÀ would struggle, too, so big investments in further Cirque productions were not automatic. Yet if you're MGM Mirage and you've just endured a horrific, expensive, very public catastrophe, you want to invest in something that can't collapse in the blink of an eye. And so we got Love, an instant hit that renewed Cirque's momentum, then, Criss Angel Believe, Viva Elvis, Michael Jackson One and the recycled Japan flop Zarkana. Intriguingly, Cirque's only star vehicle involving an actual living performer was also its last; Angel's messy, mercurial, embarrassing behavior in his show's early years reminded MGM and Cirque of the sort As he spoke to his dispatchers over the phone, I heard some key words: Mirage. Tiger. Roy. Siegfried. Hospital. of uncontrollable variable they'd be wise to avoid. The media and its relationship to Vegas changed, too, that night. The Celebrity Journalism Industrial Complex suddenly realized Las Vegas was a hotbed of star drama and one that was yet to be oversaturated as Los Angeles and New York already were. That lesson would be reinforced in subsequent months by the debut of Celine Dion's show at Caesars Palace and Britney Spears' momentary marriage to her childhood friend. People magazine put Roy and Montecore on its cover and, shortly thereafter, hired a full-time Vegas reporter. For a certain set of more serious journalists, though, the events and aftermath of the attack on Roy also became an abject lesson in just how far certain forces in the Vegas publicity machine are willing to go to protect a myth. Witnesses—that is, people in the audience without agendas who were staring right at the action—told journalists they saw Roy bop the ornery tiger on the nose with the microphone before Montecore went, literally, for Roy's jugular. Roy "looked like a rag doll in his mouth," audience member Kirk Baser of Pennsylvania told the Associated Press. Yet even with thousands watching the thing, the incident was spun. Steve Wynn went on KLAS-TV with an elaborate theory that a woman with a beehive hairdo in the front row distracted the tiger. Siegfried himself, as well as many emissaries, have suggested the tiger—long billed as a veritable member of their family—was actually protecting Roy from some perceived threat. At first, MGM brass insisted there was no video of the incident; later it was revealed there was and that the show was recorded as a matter of routine. Nevada's U.S. senators even intervened, stopping the Department of Agriculture, which probes incidents involving animal attacks, from acquiring the footage. When the USDA agreed to merely look at, rather than acquire, the video, Sen. Harry Reid considered even that to be a violation of Horn's privacy. Only in Las Vegas, it seems, could someone argue with a straight face that a famous man mauled in plain sight of thousands of people had any expectation of privacy. To this day, we don't actually, officially, know what happened to Roy. Without access to the video, the USDA closed the probe with inconclusive results. The cover-up, too, was an attempt to hold onto the world preOctober 3, 2003. On that day an illusion was shattered. How could we believe anything other than that the animal instinct of a wild predator had surfaced? And still the defenders could not let it go. And that, too, represents why this particular event would later be a turning point: It was the last time the truth about something like this could be suppressed. Fifteen months later, a little site called YouTube would provide a way for ordinary people to give the world uncensored video of events. By then, more than half of all cell phones had cameras in them. And by 2008, there was Twitter. If something like this happened today, the USDA wouldn't need to ask permission to see video; the Internet would be flooded with footage from every possible angle. It's easy to imagine a 2013 version of Vegas with Siegfried & Roy as a major, if retro, attraction. Jubilee! is still kicking. Frank Marino continues to tell his Lewinsky jokes. Donny and Marie prove a perpetual market for nostalgia. Danny Gans would surely still be at the Wynn if he hadn't died. Montecore's attack, then, represents a brutal, unparalleled case study in before-and-after for Las Vegas. Ten years later, the landscape is changed because it happened. For better? For worse? Hard to say. But different? Undeniable. LVW 22 LASVEGASWEEKLY.COM OCTOBER 3–9, 2013 16-22_Feature_20131003.indd 22 10/2/13 5:12 PM

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