Guy Laliberté

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Guy Laliberté
Laliberté at the $25,000 World Poker Tour No Limit Hold'em Championship
Born (1959-09-02) 2 September 1959 (age 64)
Known forCo-founder of Cirque du Soleil
Political partyRhinoceros (1980)
SpouseRizia Moreira (ex de facto spouse) Claudia Barilla (ex-girlfriend)
Nickname(s)Ahtata (Full Tilt Poker)
World Poker Tour
Final table(s)1
Money finish(es)2
Space career
Space Adventures tourist
Time in space
10d 21h 17m
MissionsSoyuz TMA-16 / TMA-14

Guy Laliberté, OC CQ (born 2 September 1959) is a Canadian billionaire businessman, and poker player.[1][2] Along with Gilles Ste-Croix, he is the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil in 1984. The Canadian circus company's shows have since been seen by more than 90 million people worldwide. Before founding the company, he had busked, performing as an accordion player, stiltwalker, and fire-eater.

In 2006, he was named the Ernst & Young Canadian Entrepreneur of the Year.[3][4] In 2007, he was named Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year. In January 2018, Laliberté was ranked by Forbes as the 11th wealthiest Canadian.[5]

Early years[edit]

Laliberté was born in 1959[6] in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. His interest in show business began when his parents took him to watch the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus,[7] an experience which led him to read the biography of P. T. Barnum.[7] While he was still in school, he produced several performing arts events.[8]

After school, Laliberté left Canada to hitchhike around Europe at the age of 18. While travelling, he made money by playing the accordion. He also learned fire-eating and stilt-walking during his time abroad, and after returning to Canada, became a street performer on the streets of Quebec.[9] Laliberté joined a performing troupe called Les Échassiers, which included fire-breathers, jugglers, and acrobats who hitchhiked around the country to shows. He later returned to Quebec, where he obtained a full-time job at a hydroelectric dam. However, soon after his employment began, the company's employees went on strike.[8] Laliberté took the opportunity to return to his life as a street performer.

In 1980, he ran as a Rhinoceros Party candidate for the electoral district of Charlevoix in the 1980 federal election.[10]


Laliberté during a press conference at the Johnson Space Center

Cirque du Soleil[edit]

Laliberté co-founded Cirque du Soleil in 1984 with Gilles Ste-Croix and a small group of colleagues. The group obtained the support of a government grant for the celebration of the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier's discovery of Canada.[11] Cirque du Soleil was originally set up as a one-year project. However, the government of Quebec wanted a touring event that would perform in other provinces. The name 'Cirque du Soleil' ("circus of the sun"), which Laliberté came up with while he was in Hawaii, reflects his notion that "the sun stands for energy and youth" and that the circus is about those two words.[11]

Cirque du Soleil now has activities on five continents.[6] Its shows employ approximately 4,000 people from over 40 countries and generate an estimated annual revenue exceeding US$810 million.[12][13]

In 2015 he sold 90% of his stock in the company.[14] On 17 February 2020, he sold the remaining 10% to Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.[15][14]

Poker career[edit]

Laliberté started playing super high stakes online cash games and live tournaments for recreation around 2006. In April 2007, he finished fourth in the World Poker Tour Season Five event at Bellagio in Las Vegas and won $696,220. He also played on GSN's High Stakes Poker Season 4 show and took part in Poker After Dark season 4 alongside Tom Dwan and Phil Hellmuth.[16] He was also known for frequenting the highest stakes games on Full Tilt Poker.

In 2011 Laliberté announced the Big One, a US$1 million buy-in tournament which was featured at the 2012 World Series of Poker. Part of the prize money was donated to Laliberté's philanthropic organization One Drop Foundation, which primary goal is to provide clean drinking water and hygiene products around the globe.[17] 48 players participated in the tournament and Antonio Esfandiari won the $18,346,673 first-place prize. The tournament raised $5,333,328 for the One Drop foundation.[18]

Laliberté has lost the most money on online poker cash games. Over his six accounts, noataima, patatino, lady marmelade, elmariachimacho, Esvedra and Zypherin, Laliberté has lost approximately US$31,000,000.[19]


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 on water issues facing humankind. The event was accompanied by a 120-minute webcast program featuring various artistic performances in 14 cities on five continents, including the International Space Station.[6]

In May 2020, Canada's Federal Court of Appeals ruled that his trip should be considered primarily personal, and not work related, and directed that income tax be assessed on 90% of the cost of the trip.[20] The cost of the spaceflight was $41,816,954.

In June 2011, Laliberté published a book, entitled Gaia, containing photos of Earth from his space flight. Proceeds from his book were to go to the One Drop Foundation.[21]

Atoll of Nukutepipi[edit]

In 2007, Laliberté became the owner of the atoll of Nukutepipi in the French Polynesia. In May 2014, Laliberté told the Journal de Montréal that he wanted to make the atoll a shelter that could accommodate his family and friends 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 a total war, I could bring people I like and my family so that we'd be protected. It will be completely autonomous in terms of operation: solar, environmental, ecologic, all that."[22]

On 13 November 2019, following his arrest for cannabis cultivation, Laliberté's investment firm Lune Rouge stated that "Laliberté is being questioned in respect of cultivation of cannabis for his personal use only at the residence on the island of Nukutepipi" in Tahiti.[23][24]

Awards and honours[edit]

In 1997, Laliberté received the National Order of Quebec, the highest distinction awarded by the Government of Quebec.[6]

In 2001, he was named a Great Montrealer by the Académie des Grands Montréalais. In 2003, he was honored by the Condé Nast group as part of the Never Follow Program, a tribute to creators and innovators. In 2004, he received the Order of Canada, the highest distinction in the country, from the Governor General of Canada. The same year, he was recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.[25]

In 2006, Laliberté won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for all three levels: Quebec, Canada and international.[26] In 2007, he was named Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur Of The Year.

Université Laval (Québec) awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2008. On 22 November 2010, he and Cirque du Soleil were honoured with the 2,424th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[27]

Personal life[edit]

Laliberté's son Kami is a racing driver competing in the European junior formulae.[28] He recorded one race victory in F4 but has no record of racing after 2017.[29] His daughter Naïma is a competitive dressage rider.[30]


  1. ^ "Laliberté, Guy". Voyage à travers le Québec (in French). 5 October 2009. Retrieved 23 December 2023.
  2. ^ "Guy Laliberté". (in French). Retrieved 23 December 2023.
  3. ^ Ernst & Young, 2006 EOY National Recipient Archived 8 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Frank, Steven (26 April 2004). "Guy Laliberte Revolution Under the Big Top". Time. Archived from the original on 3 November 2007.
  5. ^ "The World's Billionaires". Forbes. Archived from the original on 18 February 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d "Biography Guy Laliberté". Cirque du Soleil. Archived from the original on 8 May 2011.
  7. ^ a b Guy Laliberte: The Fabulous Life of the Creator of Cirque du Soleil
  8. ^ a b "The Circus Kid: Guy Laliberté Is Born".
  9. ^ Jag (2 September 1959). "Guy Laliberte Biography – Guy Laliberte Bio". Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  10. ^ Rakobowchuk, Peter (18 August 2015). "Rhino Party promises to nationalize Tim Hortons, move capital to Kapuskasing". Toronto Star. Canadian Press. Retrieved 4 December 2023.
  11. ^ a b Cirque du Soleil: 20 Years Under the Sun
  12. ^ Collins, Glenn (29 April 2009). "Run Away to the Circus? No need. It's Staying Here". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  13. ^ "Official Cirque du Soleil Website". Archived from the original on 25 September 2009. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  14. ^ a b "Founder Guy Laliberté sells remaining Cirque du Soleil shares". The Canadian Press. 17 February 2020. Retrieved 24 March 2024.
  15. ^ Kelly, Brendan (17 March 2020). Coronavirus: Cirque du Soleil lays off more than half its staff. Peace River Record Gazette.
  16. ^ "Guy Laliberté's Life: Biggest Profits, Losses and Net Worth". Somuchpoker. 22 July 2020. Retrieved 21 September 2020.
  17. ^ "WSOP to host $1m tournament". Poker Player. 1 June 2011.
  18. ^ Wise, Gary (1 July 2012). "The Big One For One Drop is here". Retrieved 29 January 2023.
  19. ^ Pete (10 April 2018). "Guy Laliberte: The Man Who Lost $31Million Playing Poker". HighstakesDB. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  20. ^ Appeal(Canada), Federal Court of (10 September 2013). "Decisions".
  21. ^ Moskowitz, Clara (28 June 2011). "Earth's Beauty From Space: Q&A With 'Space Clown' Guy Laliberte". Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  22. ^ Ménard, Élizabeth (25 April 2015). "Le nouveau cirque de Guy Laliberté : L'atoll de Nukutepipi". Journal de Montréal (in French).
  23. ^ Rouge, Lune. "Official Statement - Guy Laliberté". Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  24. ^ "Cirque du Soleil founder arrested in Tahiti for cannabis". CBC. Agence France-Presse. 13 November 2019. Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  25. ^ "The 2004 TIME 100". 26 April 2004. Retrieved 7 December 2023.
  26. ^ Ernst & Young 2006 EOY National Recipient Archived 8 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ Diamond, Robert (22 November 2010). "Guy Laliberte Honored On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame". Broadway World. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  28. ^ Mio, Kevin (12 July 2016). "Montreal's Kami Laliberté, 16, sets sights on career in F1". Montreal Gazette. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  29. ^ "Driver Highlights". SnapLap. Archived from the original on 25 March 2019. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  30. ^ "Canada's Golden Girls". Fédération Équestre Internationale. 30 July 2019. Retrieved 4 October 2019.

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