Guy Laliberté was born in Canada in 1959. At a young age, his parents took him to watch the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which started Guy’s love of the circus. While still at school Guy took part in several performing arts events, eventually entering the of street performance after leaving school, playing the harmonica and accordion on the streets of Quebec.

Money was non-existent so eventually Laliberte returned to Quebec to accept a full time steady job at a hydro-electric power plant. Three days into his new steady job and the plant workers went on strike and Guy was fired. Taking this as a sign from God, the newly unemployed and broke Laliberte swore to never work a normal job again and instead to devote himself 100% to performance art.

Guy Laliberte

Guy Laliberte via Assouline

Laliberté then joined a performing troupe called Les Échassiers, which included fire-breathers, jugglers, and acrobats who hitched around the country from show to show, meeting his future business partner Gilles Ste-Croix. In 1983 the government of Quebec offered a $1.5 million art grant to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada. In order to impress the government and win the grant, Laliberte’s partner Gilles Ste-Croix walked 56 miles from Baie-Saint-Paul to Quebec City, on stilts! The stunt worked and the partners used the $1.5 million to create and launch “Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil”. This first version of Cirque was both a critical and financial success, producing a modest $40,000 profit.

“Life is full of adventure. There’s no such thing as a clear pathway.” – Guy Laliberte

In 1987, Guy put everything on the line when he took his entire circus to the Los Angeles Arts Festival to drum up new business. He spent every penny both he personally AND the company had, to set up shop in California for several months. Years later, Guy admitted that had the show been unsuccessful, he would not have had enough money to bring his troupe back to Canada. Fortunately the show was a smash hit and lead to $2 million worth of future contracts.

Today Guy Laliberte has an estimated net worth of $2.6 billion and is a passionate philanthropist, space traveler and professional poker player. Laliberte’s “One Drop” foundation is dedicated to giving poor people access to clean water and is funded by a personal donation of $100 million by Guy himself.

Not bad for a man that started his career as a broke street performer.

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