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Sunday, December 7, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Siegfried & Roy are still 'together' but ...

Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — "Do you know what the secret to Siegfried & Roy was?" Siegfried Fischbacher asks, his blue eyes shining with tears. "It was the love — the audience knew it, felt it."

Two months after his partner, Roy Horn, was mauled by a royal white Siberian tiger during the illusionists' Las Vegas act, Fischbacher is living in a hotel in Westwood, just a short walk from the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center, where he visits Horn's bedside each day. "Nothing has changed," he says. "We depended on each other onstage, and now in life."

Yet everything has changed. Horn is caged in a stroke-impaired body, and Fischbacher is disorientingly free from the predictability of their five-nights-a-week extravaganza.

"It is strange to be able to call anyone I wish, to walk to the store to buy food. Always before, everything was for the show. And you," he says in an interview he agreed to without approval from a manager or publicist, "you are here because I realized I don't have anything to sell — the show, whatever. It is the first time in my life that I do this. It is a blessing."

Had confidence

The night of the attack, Fischbacher felt lost, full of despair. "When I went to see Roy, I said to myself, 'My God, my God,' " he recounts. "And then I went home, stood in the middle of a room, and it was as if somebody gave me a hug and told me, 'Everything is going to be all right.' "

During the sold-out Oct. 3 show at the Mirage Hotel, a 600-pound tiger named Montecore pawed Horn's arm and, as he stumbled, lunged for his neck and dragged him offstage. Critically injured, Horn lost a massive amount of blood and later suffered a stroke. A portion of his skull was removed to relieve pressure on his brain.

On Oct. 28, Horn was moved to UCLA Medical Center for further evaluation and treatment, with his condition listed as serious. A medical center spokesman said last Monday that he could not release any further information, at the request of Horn's family.

Fischbacher, for his part, is focusing on the positive. "Of course, he will make it. Each day, there is a new miracle." Horn is now breathing on his own, he says. Beginning to sit in a wheelchair. Listening to the radio. Watching cartoons. Laughing. He cannot yet eat or walk. Unable to speak intelligibly, he has been using gestures and writing notes.

"The first thing he wrote was, 'It is good to hold your hands,' " Fischbacher says, drawing his palms together. "And last night, he wrote that he wanted a Madonna CD."

He has also attempted to get out of bed. "He looks at the show posters we have on the walls, and they make him want to go home. It is difficult for me to see him that way, but the doctors like it. It tells them he knows what's going on."

Fischbacher has developed his own theory about what he refers to as "the accident." Despite reports that the balky tiger caused Horn to stumble, Siegfried believes Horn lost his balance because he was having a stroke. "Weeks and days before the accident," he says in hushed tones, "Roy sometimes had high blood pressure, and would say to me, 'My God! I almost passed out onstage!' "

No second guessing

Given what happened, would he change how they perform, if they return to the stage? "No," he says. "There is no reason for it. We did it that way, without problems, thousands of times."

One of the longest-running acts on the Las Vegas Strip, Siegfried & Roy had been at the Mirage since 1990, selling out their 1,500-seat showroom for 5,750 performances and earning the hotel-casino about $44 million a year.

The show is canceled indefinitely, putting 260 people out of work. Since the incident, the U.S. Department of Agriculture opened an investigation into possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act, says USDA spokesman Jim Rogers, but "right now, they still have a license with us and their show is legal, allowed by law."

Recently, in his hospital bed, Horn wrote, "Let's go do the show together." "Together was what he always said," Fischbacher says, "and it reminded me of the time we first met, when I was doing magic aboard a cruise ship and, after he had assisted me, Roy said, 'Let's try to do this together. I don't know much, but I can learn. And I will put in the same effort as you.' "

That was in 1957. In their 46 years together, Horn has continued to remind Fischbacher that there is "somebody up there, a higher power, who brought us together." The worst that could happen, Fischbacher says, weeping, would be that "Roy would no longer need me."

They share a house, and an enduring partnership, yet when asked to describe the nature of their relationship, he says, "It is not what people think. ... We are a perfect team."

A different lifestyle

These days, Fischbacher is the keeper of his own schedule. Besides his strolls along the tree-lined streets of Westwood — "People roll down their car windows and call out, 'How is he?' " — he has attended an L.A. Opera production and visited the DreamWorks television studio, where he saw writers at work on "Father of the Pride," a computer-animated series inspired by Siegfried & Roy that will debut on NBC next fall (the tiger tamers have been consultants). And last Monday he was in New York to tape an interview with Barbara Walters for a "Ten Most Fascinating People of 2003" special to air later this month.

Does he believe that Siegfried & Roy will perform again? "I don't think about it," he says, shaking his head. "I think about only one thing, to get him well." His goal: to get Horn home by Christmas. "Of course, Roy and I will be in Las Vegas" for a traditional Bavarian-themed holiday — "with duck, potato dumplings and carols."

If Horn does not fully recover, would Fischbacher consider performing without his partner? "Of course not," he responds. "It has always been about together."

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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