The real reason Siegfried & Roy retired

Forget Julie Newmar or even Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. Certainly Joe Exotic is not the first performer to captivate America's attention through interaction with very, very big cats. Whether it's a circus lion tamer with a chair and whip, that setup for countless cartoons, or zoo habitats, or an eccentric individual with backyard cage (sorry; we already mentioned Joe Exotic), human interaction with lions and tigers and other large felines has a kind of NASCAR vibe to it — we don't really want anyone to crash and burst into flames, but...

Logically enough, big cat work leads to live shows in Las Vegas. Atop that particular game was the magic spectacular that was Siegfried and Roy, using illusions, elaborate dance routines, pounding music, and lights to surround the fact that they were working with big cats. Live. On stage.

The act was phenomenally successful. The duo met in the 1950s, when both were working on a cruise ship. According to Biography, Roy Horn was a waiter and Siegfried Fischbacher was a steward who did tricks — or more accurately, illusions — on the side. Roy volunteered to be Siegfried's assistant.

The stage show was bringing in $45 million per year

One thing led to another. From making a rabbit disappear (how cliché...) it was a natural progression to, say, making a cheetah vanish. During a gig in Monte Carlo they were spotted by a scout who invited them to perform in Las Vegas. And stars were well and truly born. And they lived happily ever after. Sort of.

Thirty years in, and the productions had grown bigger and more spectacular. Siegfried and Roy were the headliners at The Mirage, and incredibly popular, bringing in as much as $45 million a year, according to The Hollywood Reporter. A sort of visual signature was their collection of rare white lions and tigers, which they raised in their own compound outside of Vegas. Horn handled the cats; Fischbacher, the illusions. And then in 2003, there was the incident, on stage, with a white tiger named Mantecore — seven feet long, 400 pounds — that changed everything. As Siegfried and Roy told ABC News, Roy suffered a stroke as he walked the cat down the stage. The duo claim to this day that the cat recognized that Horn was in medical distress and tried to move him to a place of safety.

Today Roy Horn has difficulty speaking and walking

Mantecore did so first by taking Horn's arm in his mouth, and then by wrapping his mouth around and biting Horn's neck, causing puncture wounds and significant bleeding. According to USA Today, a USDA report from 2005 lays Horn's injuries squarely on the tiger: Horn suffered a crushed windpipe and arterial damage, compromising oxygen flow to his brain and causing a stroke. The resulting brain damage forced him to re-learn simple tasks, and today can only walk short distances and he speaks with great difficulty. Caring for him ever since the incident is Siegfried

Chris Lawrence, an animal handler who was on the sidelines of the production, insists that Horn and Fischbacher are wrong: Horn had mishandled the tiger and the animal overreacted. Lawrence had stepped in when he saw that Horn was having trouble controlling the tiger. Once Horn was freed from Mantacore and removed from the stage, the cat calmed down.

Whatever the cause, it was clear that Horn's injuries meant the party was over. On October 3, 2003, Siegfried and Roy retired.