Laliberté’s annual Grand Prix party in Montreal every June attracted A-listers from all over the world. The Sunday night after the big Formula One race, Laliberté would host a bash at his sprawling mansion in Saint-Bruno that would usually end up lasting a few days. It became the highlight of the year for the world’s jet set crowd. Years later, Laliberté had to move the party to an airport base because of recurring complaints by neighbours about the incredible noise level and wild partying. Everyone who attended was awed.
“I have attended the finest parties all over the world, but nothing that compares to this,” says Myra Jones, a Milan-based fashion model who experienced several of Laliberté’s parties. “Everything you wanted was available at Guy’s parties—drugs, the best music spun by famous DJs flown in from Europe and the U.S.A., and the wildest sex you could ever imagine.”
ALSO AT MACLEANS.CA Dishing the dirt on Cirque: Unauthorized biographer Ian Halperin on how he discovered the seedier side of the biggest show on earth & Sex, drugs & acrobats: On the eve of Cirque du Soleil’s 25th anniversary, a new book exposes the stunning rise and wild times of its billionaire founder
Many people in Laliberté’s inner circle worked for months in advance to plan his big bash. One of his close friends, “Jake,” recalls when Robert De Niro attended in 2001 while in town shooting the film The Score, which turned out to be legendary star Marlon Brando’s last flick before he died. De Niro was known for dating beautiful black women. “I rounded up the hottest black strippers, prostitutes and models in Montreal and invited them to Guy’s party,” Jake reveals. “Guy likes to do anything and everything to please his guests. He wants them to have the time of their lives at his parties. If he knows a special guest likes Italian wine, he’ll have the most expensive bottles flown in. These are bottles you’d never be able to get at a liquor store in Montreal. Guy pays attention to detail in everything he does. And he spares no expense.”
Laliberté’s mountainside home in Saint-Bruno was an architectural gem. Its security system was one of the most sophisticated in the world. Laliberté had his own private lake and immense gardens filled with rows of tall, centuries-old trees.
B-list guests at his parties would be asked to sign confidentiality agreements before being allowed entrance. Gorgeous women from all over the world were often present, in addition to many of the world’s leading entertainment, arts, and business moguls. The fun would usually last several days before Laliberté would instruct his staff to turn on the grounds’ sprinkler system, which was the signal that the party was officially over.
“Everything was permitted,” says “Abby,” a stripper from Las Vegas who was a regular at his parties. “I tripped out for four days. There were tents, campers, and rooms set up for everyone to sleep in. During the party there were rooms available for people to have sex in. A lot of orgies took place. We also did lots of drugs. It was quite the experience.”
Despite Laliberté’s worries about police interference at his parties, he refused to lock out his close cop friends. But he made them promise to turn a blind eye to what was happening.
“Essentially it was give and take with the police,” journalist Esmond Choueke says. “Guy would let them in if they promised to behave and have a good time. Lots of cops party hard when they’re off duty. It was a brilliant strategy on Guy’s part to make sure the place didn’t get busted, since there was so much sex and drugs. He needed to do something to ensure a SWAT team didn’t descend on his home in the middle of the party. It would have created headlines all over the world. He managed to avoid that.”
Nevertheless, says a close friend of Laliberté’s, “By 2003, there was a lot of heat on Guy to tone it down. He moved the party to the Saint-Hubert airport and in recent years has just had close friends over for the Grand Prix weekend. He got tired of dealing with all the crap involved. Because of previous complaints he made sure no drugs were in the open and he put a tight rein on how things were organized. It was a far cry from his parties a few years back when everything you can think of was totally out in the open.”
One group Laliberté did keep off limits was Quebec’s notorious chapter of the Hells Angels. Although he casually knew several leading members of the biker gang, he didn’t go out of his way to invite them to his parties.
“Guy wanted to make sure that his parties exuded class and went off without any trouble,” one of Laliberté’s close friends says. “He was never one to try to mix with bikers or undesirables. He knew a lot of them, but in Montreal it’s rare to find someone on the party scene who doesn’t have some connection to them. I never noticed bikers at his parties; if they were there, they certainly were not wearing leather jackets and leather pants. They would have got in by dressing in more formal attire.” The friend adds that around a thousand of the guests at the main party would leave the grounds of the mansion the following morning, while several dozen would be invited to stay on and enjoy the next couple of days.
“The guests who stayed on were treated like kings,” the friend says. “They were treated to luxury: the best food, the best drink, and a relaxing time in the sun. The weather in Montreal that time of year is usually amazing. Everyone’s in a great mood because the sun is out and summer is in the air. But then again, Guy’s timing is usually impeccable.”
Laliberté’s trademark grand entrance to his party would be in the early hours of the next morning, when he’d appear high atop a platform that was visible to the huge crowd. He’d be shirtless, with the huge tattoo on his back visible to everyone. Within a few seconds he’d start breathing fire out of his mouth, the way he used to when he was a busker in the early ’80s. It was the rallying cry of his old artist self. The crowd would go wild, and a huge cheer would engulf the mansion’s compound.
Before Laliberté performed there would be an array of Cirque du Soleil type performers strutting their stuff, including acrobats, jugglers, clowns, masseuses and fortune tellers. But none could spark the pulse of the crowd with the same intensity and humility as Laliberté. He was a more vivid and charismatic performer than any other.
A well-known business executive in Montreal says attending Guy’s party was one of the highlights of his life. It had taken him three years to get an invitation—finally a friend he had in common with Laliberté arranged it. From the moment he arrived, he was impressed with every detail.
“I’ve travelled all over the world but had never experienced anything like Guy’s party,” he says. “In fact, if it had not ended in the wee hours of the next morning, I could have easily stayed another month. Each direction you turned there was something incredible going on. I occasionally smoke pot, but that night I must have had 12 joints, which were being passed around like candy. I also did several lines of coke. It felt great to be so f–ked up in such an amazing atmosphere. It took me several weeks to recuperate, but I didn’t have a single regret. It was the greatest night of my life.”
Former swimsuit and Playboy model Angie Everhart attended Laliberté’s party the same summer she was shooting the film Wicked Minds in Montreal. Everhart, who is a notorious jet setter and former addict who has dated the likes of Prince Andrew and Sylvester Stallone, says the moment you walked through the front doors at Laliberté’s mansion, you immediately felt like you belonged and were completely transformed.
“I loved it,” Everhart says. “It was beyond crazy; it was complete insanity for hours. Everyone was so beautiful and so free. It was as if they all dumped their personal baggage at the door and let themselves go. And when Guy made his grand entrance spitting fire out of his mouth, it went from being electric to pandemonium. The music was deafening, which is the way I like it, and the energy was high, really high. If there was a straight person in the house they must have freaked out watching everyone else trip. They would have thought they were the one on drugs.”
Many of the guests brought Laliberté gifts, although he didn’t like receiving them and often gave the items away. He got more pleasure out of giving and watching people enjoy his big gift to them—the party.
“I made contacts that I’ll keep for life,” says “Denis,” an informant close to Cirque. “I could never figure out how Guy managed to get so many people from different parts of the world to attend. It completely blew my mind. One afternoon when we were all sitting around drinking and relaxing in the sun, I met a woman who had travelled all the way from Ecuador. She said she met Guy in Las Vegas at a breakfast diner and they became good friends. Guy is probably the only person in the world who could be in a room for less than five minutes and get to know everyone present and remember all their names. He loves people more than anything. It’s one of his greatest qualities.”
Laliberté told friends that his lavish parties were a tribute to them. He wanted people to have a 1960s feeling of freedom but with a modern twist. He had a calm assurance that whatever happened at his parties was right.
“He took a giant risk with all the sex, booze, and drugs,” says “Ted,” a friend of Laliberté’s. “It could have all collapsed in his face so easily. It would have taken just one incident like a drug overdose or a woman saying she was raped and he would have been vilified. Yet the measures he took to avoid anything like this were far from great. Sure, he had lots of security and staff on site, but they couldn’t monitor everything that was going on; it would have been impossible to do so. He put his faith in his friends, and they never disappointed him. I never even saw a fight break out although there were lots of guys who were there with their wives doing wife swapping or having fun with other women. It was a real anything-goes atmosphere. No one seemed to object.”
One of the most bizarre stories I came across while researching this book came from an L.A. model who spent every cent she had to attend the party. It took her years to make it to Laliberté’s guest list, but she got in after befriending a Hollywood producer whom she knew had been friends with Laliberté. She said she bought four designer outfits, got her hair straightened at the same Beverly Hills salon where Paris Hilton gets her hair done, and bought herself a $6,000 boob job. All that before airfare, hotel, and travel money. She says she spent over $20,000 in all. She remembers showing up to Laliberté’s party with scars and red marks on her remodelled chest.
“I looked at it as an opportunity of a lifetime,” she says. “I didn’t want to go and not turn heads. I invested all the money I had and maxed out all my credit cards. When I arrived at the party it was everything and more than I expected. I met Guy, and he was so incredibly down to earth. When it was over, reality sank in. I had just gone broke over this one crazy night. When I returned to L.A., I couldn’t pay off my debts and was just about to declare personal bankruptcy.
“A couple of weeks later,” she says, “a man I had exchanged business cards with at the party called me. He had told me that he produced commercials for a major network, and I talked to him for around an hour about how I wanted to break into the acting business. When he called me in L.A. he asked me to audition for a national TV ad for a new hair product company. I ended up getting the gig and getting paid enough to clear my debts and then some. A couple of months later I landed a network TV pilot. My career started taking off because I took the risk of flying to Montreal to attend the party. What looked like a potentially disastrous decision turned into the greatest career move I ever made.”
While thousands of people have enjoyed the extravagance of Laliberté’s renowned parties, many others have wondered how much Laliberté doled out for them. Rumours on the Internet suggest he spends from hundreds of thousands all the way to $10 million. A former Cirque executive claims Laliberté’s parties were budgeted into Cirque’s marketing plans. He claims the parties usually cost $3 million; nevertheless a wise investment on Laliberté’s part.
“No matter how amazing the parties were, I know for a fact that they would never have taken place if Guy did not see a big return on the investment,” the former executive says. “Not to say I want to take any credit away from him. He’s a master party thrower—better than Hugh Hefner, better than any Oscar party.”
How does he make money off it? It’s simple: he invites some of the most influential and richest people in the world and treats them like kings. They go back to their countries and spread the word about how nice and incredible Guy is. When Cirque tours their respective countries they open every door for Guy, which in turn guarantees Cirque success there. It’s a brilliant marketing and networking plan, maybe the most elaborate ever in the entertainment business.
“Every time Guy has a premiere, he invests a lot in the opening night party,” the former Cirque executive says. “It’s a brilliant marketing strategy. There’s no media person who attends one of these events that will ever dare to write a bad word about Cirque du Soleil. They’d never get invited back. Guy makes it a privilege to get into his private openings, and the people invited must show respect if they hope to attend the next one. Amazingly, when Guy dies, I don’t know if he’ll be remembered more for creating Cirque du Soleil or for his incredible parties. Either way, I don’t think anyone will ever match him on either level.”
Excerpted from Guy Laliberté: The Fabulous Story of the Creator of Cirque du Soleil by permission of Transit Publishing. Copyright © Ian Halperin, 2009.
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