Guy Laliberté, born September 2, 1959, is a Canadian billionaire businessman and poker player. Along with Giles Ste-Croix, he is the co-founder of Cirque Du Soleil. In January 2018, Laliberté was ranked by Forbes as the 11th wealthiest Canadian.
Guy Laliberté was born in 1959 in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. His interest in show business started when his parents brought him to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, an experience that led him to read the biography of P. T. Barnum. While he was still in school, he produced several performing arts events.
After school, Laliberté would leave Canada to hitchhike around Europe at the age of 18. While he was trying, he made his money by playing the accordion. He also learned fire-eating and stilt-walking during this time abroad, and after he returned to Canada, he became a street performer on the streets of Quebec.
Laliberté joined a performing troupe called Les Échassiers, which included fire-breathers, jugglers, and acrobats who hitchhiked around the country to shows. He later obtained a full-time job at a hydroelectric dam. However, soon after his employment began, the company’s employees would go on strike. Laliberté took this opportunity to return to his life as a street performer.
In 1984, Laliberté founded Cirque du Soleil. The Canadian circus company’s shows have been seen by more than 90 million people worldwide. Before he founded the company, he had busked, performing as an accordion player, stilt-walker, and fire eater. In 2006, he was named the Ernst & Young Canadian Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2007, he was named the Ernst and Young World Entrepreneur of the Year.
In 1980, he ran as a Rhinoceros Party candidate for the electoral district of Charlevoix in the federal election.
Laliberté co-founded Cirque du Soleil in 1984 with Gilles St-Croix and a small group of colleagues. The group had the support of a government grant for the celebration of the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s Discovery Canada. Cirque du Soleil was originally set to be a one-year project. However, the government of Quebec wanted a touring event that could perform in other provinces. The name “Cirque du Soleil” (AKA circus of the sun), which Laliberté came up with while he was in Hawaii. This notion was that “the sun stands for energy and youth”, and that the circus is about those two words.
Cirque du Soleil now has activities on five continents. Its shows employ approximately 4,000 people from over 40 countries and generate an estimated annual revenue exceeding $810 million USD. In 2015, he sold 90 per cent of his stock in the company. On February 17, 2020, he sold the remaining 10 per cent to Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.
Laliberté started playing super high-stakes online cash games and live tournaments for recreation around 2006. In April 2007, he finished fourth place in the World Poker Tour Season Five event at Bellagio in Las Vegas, winning $696,220. He also played on GDN’s High Stakes Poker Season 4 show and took part in Poker After Dark season 4 with Tom Dwan and Phil Hellmuth. He was also known for frequenting the highest stakes games on Full Tilt Poker.
In 2011, Laliberté announced the Big One, a $1 million USD buy-in tournament featured at the 2012 World Series of Poker. Part of the prize money was donated to Laliberté philanthropic organization One Drop Foundation. The foundation’s primary goal is to provide clean drinking water and hygiene products around the globe.
48 players participated in the tournament and Antonio Esfandiari won the $18,346,673 first-place prize. The tournament went on to raise $5,333,328 for the One Drop foundation.
Laliberté has lost the most money on online poker cash games. Over his six accounts, Laliberté has lost approximately $31,000,000 USD.
In September 2009, Laliberté became the first Canadian space tourist. He launched on the Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft and landed in the Soyuz-TMA-14 spacecraft. His spaceflight was dedicated to raising awareness about water issues facing humankind. The event was accompanied by a 120-minute webcast program featuring multiple artistic performances across 14 cities and five continents, including the International Space Station.
In May 2020, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeals ruled that his trip should be considered primarily personal, not work-related, and directed that income tax be assessed on 90 per cent of the cost of the trip. The cost of the spaceflight was $41,816,954.
In June 2011, Laliberté published a book called Gaia, containing photos of the earth from his space flight. Proceeds from his book went to the One Drop Foundation.
In 2007, Laliberté became the owner of Nukutepipi in French Polynesia. In May 2014, Laliberté would tell the Journal De Montreal that he wanted to make the atoll a shelter that could house his friends and family in the event of a global catastrophe.
“Because of all that’s happening in the world, I said to myself: that could be the place where, in case of an epidemic or total war, I could bring people I like and my family so we’d be protected. It will be completely autonomous in terms of operation, solar, environmental ecologic, all that,” he said.
Laliberté’s son Kami is a racing driver competing in the European junior formulae. He recorded one race victory in f4 but has no record of racing after 2017. His daughter, Naïma, is a competitive dressage rider.