Dishing the dirt on Cirque

Unauthorized biographer Ian Halperin on how he discovered the seedier side of the biggest show on earth

Dishing the dirt on CirqueQ: Your latest book is Guy Laliberté: The Fabulous Story of the Creator of Cirque du Soleil. How did you get interested in the topic?
A: Through Andrew Morton, basically. We’re friends, and we were in a New York cab late one night when he was wondering who to write about next. This was just after publishing his Tom Cruise book. I told him the biggest, still unknown entertainment story was Guy Laliberté, and Andrew said, “Who?”  I explained, and the next day he phoned me and said I knew the story so much better, I should do it. So I did.

Q: How did you find all the Cirque performers, past and present, you spoke to?
A: I had already met many over the years. I was a professional sax player in Montreal for 15 years. I often performed with Cirque tango players, even acrobats. I knew people already, and I knew about their crazy world.

Q: Which raises the question, what did you leave out?
A: Oh, a good 30 per cent of the stuff I heard didn’t make the final cut, mostly because I couldn’t get corroboration. Some came too late—one woman wrote me with lengthy details about her affair with Laliberté. That’ll go in the second edition. But I also wasn’t very interested in negative stuff about Guy, and I heard a lot. I wanted to show a success story. No matter what anyone said about him or about his crazy life, he’s a humanitarian—his heart’s in the right place.

Q: What do you think of his planned space flight?
A: He’s going in September, so I’m sure it’s his 50th birthday [Sept. 2] present to himself. I had heard that as soon as fellow billionaires Paul Allen and Richard Branson said they wanted to go to space, Laliberté said he wanted to be one of the first.

Q: Is the Cirque more sedate theses days?
A: Yes, because pay and conditions have improved. You don’t hear those old allegations about exploiting foreign artists any more, especially the East Europeans. That’s the upside of the fact that Cirque has become a giant corporation; 24 hours a day a Cirque show is performing somewhere in the world. It has become like Disney, for good and bad—a lot of people think it has sold out or at least spread itself too thin, lost its cutting edge.

Q: You give a lot of space and detail to your own platonic—if occasionally naked—relationship with Laliberté’s angry ex-common-law wife. Why?
A: In the books I write I’m always involved, generally in an undercover way. She contacted me, gave me lots of details about how Guy operates, introduced me to a lot of Cirque people I didn’t know.

Q: How do you think this story will end?
A: One day there will be a Hollywood movie about him—probably produced by him. If he’s honest, it’ll be an incredible story, the greatest showbiz biopic ever.

To read an excerpt from Halperin’s new book, click here

To read the full article, click here

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