Savage Betrayal

10/09/2003 at 10:23 AM EDT

On Oct. 4, less than 24 hours after Roy Horn was mauled onstage on his 59th birthday by one of his own tigers, he sent a heartening message to the shell-shocked friends holding vigil in his hospital room. Though he did it in silence. "I went over to the bed and said, 'Roy, can you hear me?' " says Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn. " 'I'm holding your hand. If you can hear me, squeeze.' And he did. I said, 'Okay, one squeeze is yes and two squeezes is no.' I told Roy, 'Your body took a terrific shock. You lost a lot of blood. The doctors have had to do surgeries on you. Can you handle this?' And Roy squeezed my hand once for yes."

By Oct. 7 Roy's neurosurgeon Dr. Derek Duke had to agree with his patient: While still in critical condition after undergoing three operations, the Vegas showman was, against the odds, fighting fiercely for his life. "It's all but miraculous that he's alive at this time," Duke told reporters. "A contributing factor to his current condition is his extraordinary will and strong physical attributes. (But) it will be quite some time before the extent of his recovery is known."

In the days after hundreds of fans gathered outside the hospital for prayer, Roy's partner of nearly 45 years, Siegfried Fischbacher, 64, was at his bedside nearly around the clock, kept company by a stream of friends and colleagues. Although Wynn describes him as "devastated," the first few days – "If you looked at his face, you got it; it was frightening" – Siegfried has begun to take charge of the situation. "Siegfried has unconditional faith," says Bernie Yuman, who has managed the duo for 28 years. Adds magician Lance Burton, who has spent time with Siegfried at the hospital every day: "He's held up through all this unbelievably well."

Sadly, the same can't be said for the duo's show, which, after a storied 13-year history at the Mirage, was closed indefinitely following the Oct. 3 disaster. Before a full house at the Siegfried & Roy Theatre at the Mirage, the tightly paced 95-minute extravaganza – the costumed dancers, the zaps of laser light, the mechanical dragon, the gasp-inspiring illusions performed by Siegfried and those gorgeous white Bengal tigers and white lions trained by Roy – was running like clockwork. It was during one of the least spectacular segments of the show that Roy came onstage with one of the white tigers, a 7-year-old male named Montecore, to explain his work protecting and preserving these rare animals. Ordinarily, Montecore lies down, then stands with his paws on Roy's shoulders and gives him a sort of embrace. Not this night.

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