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Guy Laliberté: The Man Who Challenged Stereotypes of Success

Choosing street life over stability

Guy Laliberté was born in Quebec City, Canada, on September 2nd, 1959. His father was a Public Relation Executive for Alcan Aluminum Corporation and his mother worked as a nurse. Since early childhood Guy was interested in performing and even took lessons in folk dancing. The regular middle-class future was not for him. He dreamed about travelling all around the world and living a free life as a street performer.

At the age of 14 Guy Laliberté left home, joined a folk music group called “La Grande Gueule”, and started to earn his living by playing the accordion and harmonica on the streets of Quebec.

He love performing and telling the stories. But he even more than telling stories he enjoyed listening to other performers’ talk about their life, places they had travelled to, their dreams and adventures. He longed to see the world. And at the age of 18 his dream finally came true and he bought a ticket to Europe.

The beginning of a great adventure…

He arrived in London with grand dreams, very little money in his pocket and no place to stay. That night Laliberté fell asleep on a bench in Hyde Park, covering himself with the only coat he had. Police officers could have easily mistaken him for a bum, but this did not worry Guy even a little bit. There was so much to see and so much to learn!

During a year of travelling Guy Laliberté met other street performers, and learned fire eating, juggling and stilt walking from them. He also never missed a chance to ask his companions about their experiences, their ideas, and their dreams. He was collecting these ideas like precious stones, putting them together and imagining what his own shows should look like.

A New Circus Era

In 1979 at the age 20, Laliberté returned to Canada where he joined a stilt-walking troupe and together they have put together a festival of street performers called La Fête Foraine de Baie-Saint-Paul.

Here for the first time Guy Laliberté did something no one had ever tried before – he combined elements of dance, theater and gymnastics, redefining the concept of the “circus”.

In 1984 Daniel Gauthier and Guy Laliberté co-founded Cirque du Soleil and the group of street performers finally had their first big breakthrough. They convinced the Quebec government to give them funding for a street show that celebrated the 450th anniversary of Quebec. This gave Cirque du Soleil a great start and in 3 years they gained a great reputation in Canada.

Laliberté had a vision of making Cirque du Soleil known throughout the whole world and he convinced the troupe to spend all of their money on preforming at the Los Angeles Arts Festival. Fortunately for Laliberte’ their show was a success and they earned the money not only for the return trip, but to hire more performers and create another show.

Cirque du Soleil as we know it

As Cirque du Soleil matured, Laliberté decided to add another twist to their already unique circus – to create the first show that did not tour. In 1992 in Las Vegas everyone could see the performance of Mystere launched in a theater built specifically for the show.

By 1999, Cirque du Soleil troupe grew from 73 to 1,400 employees with offices on three continents. In 2000, Guy Laliberté bought out Gauthier's share of the business and in just four years almost doubled the number of employees and performers. By 2004, Laliberté was named one of Time magazine's world's most influential people. The once penniless stilt walker has been listed number 514 on the Forbes billionaires list and number 75 on Canada's list of richest people. And he did it without having a degree, influential connections or any starting capital! What was the secret of his success?

I believe his ability to listen and materialize other people fantasies. Or maybe it is his absence of fear when it comes to taking risks in life. 🙂

For the record…

In one of his interviews he said, “I am blessed for what I have, but I believed in it from the beginning. Today, the dream is the same: I still want to travel, I still want to entertain, and I most certainly still want to have fun.

• Guy Laliberte’ is a father of five children.
• He enjoys playing poker and participating in Poker Tournaments.
• He is a creator of  the ONE DROP Foundation to fight poverty around the world by providing sustainable access to safe water.
• In 2008 Université Laval (Québec) awarded him an honorary doctorate.
• And since September 2009, he is also known as the first Canadian private space explorer. His space mission was dedicated to raising awareness on water issues facing humankind on planet earth.

  • Dheerendra
    April 22, 2010 at 11:55 am

    i am mesmerised by the story of Guy Laliberte,when we truly want something in life, the whole universe conspire in our favour… i really feel that we got to pursue our deams passionately so tht we can get what we desire for…. it was very nice…thnx Arina for sharing it with us…

  • Megan Zuniga
    April 26, 2010 at 12:39 am

    Ooooh. This is such an inspirational story. I’m still amazed at rags to riches story. Stories like these are true Cinderella stories. Thanks for sharing this article.

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