The truth about Siegfried & Roy: the duo have never denied their past romantic relationship. So why is the media ignoring it?
Siegfried and Roy have always been master illusionists, both on the stage and off. Sure, making a 600-pound white tiger disappear in the blink of a pyrotechnic is impressive, but it's the way that the pair have managed over the years to become the world's most openly closeted celebrities that's truly awe-inspiring.
This became ever more obvious after Roy Horn's horrific onstage mauling by a tiger in Las Vegas October 3. An international media mob picked over just about every biographical detail about Horn's and Siegfried Fischbacher's 44-year history together but studiously avoided actually stating that the two were once involved romantically. (My own dispatches for major national newspaper all mysteriously shed my explicit references to them as former lovers.)
It's not as though it was a big secret, although I thought so at first. Siegfried avoided answering the question in a 1999 Vanity Fair interview, and here in Vegas the pair have never had any presence in the gay community outside of buying ads in the program book of a major AIDS fund-raising show. Yet when I talked to MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman the night of the tiger attack, he was frank: "It's well-known that they were lovers at one time," shrugged Feldman, whose company owns the Mirage Hotel and Casino, where the magic show had been held since 1990. "I don't think anybody is hiding that." Similarly, that 1999 Vanity Fair article--headlined, by the way, "Married, With Tigers" included a quote from the duo's pal Shirley MacLaine that acknowledged their past romantic involvement. And in Siegfried's first solo interview, with CNN's Larry King five days after the mauling, Siegfried himself confirmed with considerable emotion that his connection to Roy "is a relationship second to none" in his life.
Still, other journalists told me they didn't mention their romantic connection--but hinted instead with buzzwords like "flamboyant"--because they just didn't feel they knew for sure. Besides, I heard frequently, what's the relevance?
To put it mildly, neither of these concepts makes sense. "Siegfried and Roy" is synonymous in popular culture with "splashy gay couple." They have inspired so many good-natured queer punch lines that Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Norm Clarke listed all the shows on the Strip that rushed to delete jokes about them in the days after the tiger attack. A David Letterman Top Ten list a few years hack titled "Middle-of-the-Night Messages Siegfried Left on Roy's Answering Machine" included "Want to go to Hooters and pretend to look at chicks?"
As for relevance, Siegfried and Roy's onetime romantic connection is, as I learned, a basic, easily available piece of biographical information and must have had an incalculable impact on the formation of their performing partnership--and on Siegfried's reaction to the events of October 3. Imagine how silly it would have been for the media to omit Sonny Bono's marriage to Cher from his obituary. Why would they?
This is not to say Siegfried and Roy have lived their lives untruthfully. They haven't. Everyone knows they are together in some intimate way; everybody's seen them together onstage in their sequins night after night. Unlike their most obvious Las Vegas forebear, Liberace, they have never sued anyone to prove their heterosexuality. They are, as Las Vegas activist and columnist Lee Plotkin likes to say, simply "passively gay."
The deliciously subversive sleight of hand they've pulled off on Middle America was never more apparent than after Roy's injury. I found an 80-year-old lady from rural Illinois with a WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? pin on her lapel and an ornate cross around her neck signing a well-wisher board outside the Mirage the day the show was permanently canceled. With tears in her eyes and without a trace of irony in her voice, she said, "I just love them both so. They were the one of the last wholesome things left to see in this town."