Everything about Siegfried and Roy was a mystery — most especially, how they performed their brilliant stage act over decades with wild animals that could presumably decapitate a human. That is what almost happened to Roy Horn in October of 2003 when the pair’s beloved tiger Mantacocre jumped on Horn and dragged him offstage by his neck. He survived, but the act was finished.
Horn died in May 2020 of COVID-19 at the age of 75, and less than a year later, his beloved Siegfried Fischbacher, 81, died of pancreatic cancer. Though their deaths were about the only thing that wasn’t mysterious about them, the nature of their true relationship remains somewhat of an open question.
Shortly after Horn died, I wrote a column about Horn and Little Richard, who had died around the same time, being the last of a dying breed “who lived quasi-out lives, with the mere mention of their names sparking suspicion. Are they or aren’t they gay? It made me wonder if the era of stars operating and living their lives half in the closet might be over?”
Now comes a truly enjoyable cliffhanger of a podcast, Wild Things, from filmmaker and journalist Steven Leckart, that seeks to expose the truth about the lives, careers, and relationship of the shadowy figures of Siegfried and Roy.
The podcast has made news in recent weeks, primarily about the wild investigation into the tiger attack that almost killed Horn. Wild Things also tries to put to rest the open question, “Were Siegfried and Roy romantic partners as well as business partners?”
I had the opportunity to speak with Leckart, who as a child of the 1980s was fascinated by the pair. While he never saw them perform, his parents did, and their description to him about what they experienced left an everlasting impression. “They told me about tigers floating through the air and being trained to jump through hoops and other tricks, and it all sounded so absurd to me,” Leckart recalls.
What also intrigued Leckart as he followed their career was what really happened to Horn on that infamous and almost deadly night. “When the incident happened, it seemed like we never got a whole answer about what caused Mantacocre to attack Roy,” explains Leckart. “There was never a clear picture, so that’s one of the questions I set out to investigate, and then it all kind of evolved from there into a more in-depth podcast.”
In the podcast, Leckart goes into the weeds about the two separate investigations into the tiger attack. “The inquiries provided so much fodder for stories,” Leckart points out. “The more I found out about what occurred, the more engrossed I became. The police were looking into some crazy theories — some were really far out — about why the attack happened. It was mind-blowing.”
Slight spoiler alert: The rumors included a plot to kill Horn from anti-LGBTQ+ groups, someone behind the scenes who set the whole thing up, and finally a mysterious person who drugged either the tiger or Roy. “The whole thing just mirrored the mystique behind their show, and the hyperbole around the way they lived their lives. The listener can draw their own conclusions about how Roy nearly died,” Leckart says.
The other big question the podcast addresses is whether the pair were lovers. “We had to look at it from the point of view of both men being from a different generation, where you didn’t talk about your sexuality. This was particularly true if you worked in Hollywood or the entertainment industry,” Leckart reasons. “Coming out as gay would have ruined your career. Seigfried and Roy began to catch notice during the late ’60s, and that was certainly not an optimum time to come out. It would have adversely affected their burgeoning careers.”
“As time passed, especially in the 1980s and ’90s, Siegfried and Roy became a bit more flamboyant, but they still had to keep their private life in check, because remember, the audiences for their shows were mostly from middle America, and their audience was a more conservative crowd,” he adds.
What Leckart has learned is that in all probability the two men a romantic couple in the early and middle stages of their careers but then became more stage partners later in life. Although to Leckart, the duo remained extraordinarily close through the remainder of their lives: “They were each other’s spirit animal.”
I wondered if the accident and Horn’s injuries provided an opportunity for the two to become a couple again. “That’s a great question,” Leckart replies. “Few people in the world knew what went on in their private lives; however, the people who saw the two of them after the incident said that Siegfried and Roy had a very deep love and bond. I’d argue that the way people describe the tenderness between the two men post-incident was bigger than romantic love. They were just so spiritually connected.”
After Roy died of COVID-19, Siegfried released a statement saying, “Today, the world has lost one of the greats of magic, but I have lost my best friend.”
“From the moment we met, I knew Roy and I, together, would change the world. There could be no Siegfried without Roy, and no Roy without Siegfried,” he added,
“They complemented each other in so many ways. One was brunet, the other blond, they finished each other’s sentences, and their chemistry onstage was seamless and flawless,” Leckart says. “Siegfried was correct, there would not have been one without the other. And together, they dramatically changed the meaning and type of a magic show, and the mysteries behind all of their illusions.”
Leckart suspects that the duo would like the podcast because they enjoyed all the fuss behind the mysteries they created. “The more intriguing they became, the more people they were able to draw in.”