Lions, Tigers & Siegfried...Oh My!

On the second of the three days I spent in Las Vegas with my wife Amy prepping for my second “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” appearance, we found ourselves with a free afternoon.

On a whim, we found ourselves in a place we had not visited before, Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage. Our Google search billed it as “a zoolike animal sanctuary at the Mirage hosting tigers, lions & panthers plus bottlenose dolphins.” Some of the animals we’d see would be the ones who had appeared in the retired Siegfried & Roy’s iconic Vegas magic show until it ended in 2003.

As we wandered around looking at the beautiful animals, we saw one pacing back and forth, looking a little tense and more active than the other animals.

We asked one of the employees why this lion was acting that way, and she said, “It’s probably he’s ready to be fed, or he knows that Siegfried is around.”

Amy and I gave each other a quizzical look. We both heard the same thing. And we both thought the same thing. There must be another animal here that’s making this lion nervous and that other animal was named “Siegfried” in the magician’s honor.

Nope. Turns out the Siegfried she was talking about was human. Siegfried, that Siegfried, was now walking into the entrance of his garden, twenty feet behind the employee we were speaking with. And the lion, I am unscientifically assuming, had either smelled him, saw him, or checked his calendar and knew he was coming.

Seeing Siegfried at the Siegfried and Roy Secret Garden was not at all what we had expected to happen that day. Have you ever met a member of the Ripley family at a “Believe It or Not” attraction? Or seen a great-great-granddaughter of Madame Tussauds at one of their wax museums? Exactly.

Amy and I were frozen in surprise. And then we made a beeline over to the legend.

After he finished taking a photo with a family, Siegfried approached us to say hello. I was repping my Orlando Magic NBA shirt which has the word MAGIC emblazoned on the front. Of course the basketball team didn’t come to his mind, but the word “magic” caught Siegfried’s attention, and he asked me if I was a magician.

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He was delighted to hear that I was there to film for Fool Us and talked about how great it is that there is so much opportunity to go on television now. He talked to us about his coming from Germany, and I asked him about his first performances in America and how things had changed.

He talked about Hans Klok and the Ehrlich Brothers now playing their shows in stadiums. And how wonderful that was, because when he was starting out, a future as a magician was unheard of. His mother even asked him to not put “magician” as a job on his passport.

When he came to Vegas, there was practically nothing. He and Roy thought they would leave the desert after three months, but they had now been living there for 50 years. It was fascinating to hear him tell it.

In between stories he paused, produced a trademark coin for Amy, and did some more sleight-of-hand magic with it. He asked me questions about my magic and told me how lucky I was to be performing full-time.

It was a rare opportunity to meet this amazing performer who has cemented his place in the history and development of modern magic. He couldn’t have been nicer. After we parted ways, I had the idea to check the gift shop for some books. We were in luck. I bought their book, “A Life of Magic” and had him sign it before we left.

The lions were beautiful to see and the dolphin show was terrific. But this chance encounter made the day amazing.

Amy and I were in pleasant surprise the rest of the day. What were the chances that we decided to come there that one day, and at the right time, that the man himself would show up? It was flabbergasting.

The next morning I told Johnny Thompson (the legendary magician, judge on “Fool Us,” and consultant to Penn & Teller) that we went to the Secret Garden. Without a second’s delay, Johnny asked, “Oh, did you see Siegfried there?”

So apparently he’s there often. It’s his Cheers. And he’s the owner.

Which means that when you’re in Vegas, you should go meet him too.

I’ve written before about the fact that as a teenager I realized that what would make me happy is to live by the beach and perform magic and bring joy to visitors and locals alike. And I can see how for Siegfried, this oasis for his animals is like his bar, his spot, his home in the desert, where he can have social time anytime, perform some magic, share some stories, and bring joy to tourists and locals alike.

That’s nice. That’s really nice.