Dirk Arthur, Last of the Big-Cat Las Vegas Magicians, Dies at 63

Posted on: October 16, 2023, 05:42h. 

Last updated on: December 13, 2023, 12:28h.

Dirk Arthur, the last magician to use wild animals in a Las Vegas magic show, has died at age 63.

Magician Dirk Arthur performs with a snow leopard
Magician Dirk Arthur performs with a snow leopard in this undated photo from his website, which is still active. (Image: dirkarthurmagic.com)

Officials at Westgate Las Vegas, where Arthur most recently worked, confirmed his death Monday to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. No specific details of his passing were revealed. According to the R-J, he had been pursuing a new show in Branson, Mo., as recently as last month.

“Dirk Arthur’s Wild Magic” debuted in 1997 in “Jubilee” at Bally’s before subsequent incarnations leaped to the Silverton, Plaza, Tropicana, O’Sheas, Harrah’s in Reno and Laughlin, and the Riviera, a few months before that hotel closed in 2015.

By then called “Dirk Arthur’s Wild Illusions,” it was the official last exotic cat show ever staged on the Las Vegas Strip.

The ninth venue (and life) for “Dirk Arthur’s Wild Magic” occurred at the Westgate for five months in 2017 and 2018. Before opening, Arthur was forced to scratch plans to feature a snow leopard, bobcat, birds, and a duck.

Arthur blamed space limitations at the time, though he had previously performed in smaller showrooms. The animal-rights groups who protested the show claimed a victory when the cats were removed.

Bizarre Timing

News of Arthur’s death comes just a week after the 20th anniversary of the accident that ended the careers of Siegfried & Roy, which it turns out we weren’t told everything about at the time.

Big-cat shows had already begun to fall out of favor because of a cultural shift toward animal welfare and conservation. But Roy Horn’s infamous tiger attack greatly hastened the end of the era of caged animals performing acceptably for audience amusement in Las Vegas.

By 2017, even the Ringling Brothers Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, a staple of children’s entertainment since 1871, pulled up stakes — though the world’s most famous big top returned last month without animals.

Last Holdout

Until July 2022, Arthur planned to single-handedly bring performing big cats back to the Las Vegas stage. He kept at least 10 of them in a private zoo on a 1-acre habitat west of the Strip near the Silverton at an estimated cost of up to $150K per year.

However, Arthur’s plans to stage a new show called “Magic Unleashed” — featuring white and orange tigers, a snow leopard, and a bobcat — were dashed when animal activists actively protested the Notoriety Live theater in Fremont Street’s Neonopolis, where Arthur had hoped to perform.

Times for Arthur had apparently gotten so lean that, according to the R-J obit, he last worked for the Westgate as an usher — presumably in the very theater where his show once headlined.

Upon his death, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued a statement calling for any exotic cats remaining in Arthur’s possession “to be sent to accredited sanctuaries where they’ll have space to roam, opportunities to swim and climb, and freedom from stage lights and filthy cages at last.”