At the peak of their fame, Las Vegas performers Siegfried and Roy were arguably the most famous illusionists and big-cat handlers the world had ever known. Chris Jones and Michael J. Mooney’s piece on the German duo’s history — and rise and fall — is a tremendous read:

There was almost always a moment during the show when Roy entered a cage and, with the aid of a purple curtain and some hidden doors, was “turned into” a lion, and that lion almost always took a swipe at Siegfried, who theatrically evaded its claws. Once, Siegfried failed to escape the clutches of a lion that went off-script and bit his arm. He needed several dozen stitches to close the wound. To the paying customers, the lion’s reach seemed like a moment of genuine risk, and Siegfried’s scar proved that in some ways it was. “As an audience member, you’re drawn into this,” Lance Burton, a former Las Vegas magician, says. “Because you don’t know if this is part of the act or if this is the night the lion’s going to get him.” That moment of manufactured risk also somehow magically obscured the actual risk to everyone involved, the way we get a thrill out of riding a roller coaster when the drive to the amusement park is far more likely to kill us.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.