For a guy who paid millions of dollars to be a space tourist, Guy Laliberte is still an accidental celebrity.
The billionaire head of Cirque du Soleil still shows up at news conferences in jeans, sneakers and short-sleeved shirt, prompting jokes from business-suited MGM Resorts International Chairman Jim Murren about how it’s easy to tell “who’s the entertainment genius and who’s the corporate geek.”
And Laliberte has become more selective about when to raise his profile. In recent years, it’s been Cirque’s president, Daniel Lamarre, left to explain moves such as “Viva Elvis” closing at Aria Aug. 18 and “Zarkana” replacing it.
But Laliberte dropped in last week to promote his One Drop Foundation to fund clean water and advocacy programs. Cirque and MGM agreed to donate a week’s worth of revenue from five of the Las Vegas titles — about $1.3 million — and said that next year might bring a more high-profile fundraiser delivered with trademark Cirque flair.
Laliberte agrees, with a smile, that he would have liked to have made his 2009 ride to the International Space Station “incognito, undercover.” But he realized “I will be exposed,” so he decided to don a clown nose and draw attention to the water foundation he started in 2007.
“Let’s try to use that space trip as a communication marketing tool, one stone and hitting two birds.”
Having such a benign, Ben & Jerry’s-style company as your major entertainment partner (remember, $1.3 million from five titles in one week) made it an easy decision for MGM Resorts to pledge $1 million to One Drop, a commitment that sounds more modest when you break it down to five years of $200,000 installments.
And if you listen, water bubbles under many a news story. This week’s big oil find in Kenya inspired a Daily Nation newspaper cartoon of the impoverished asking, “And when will you discover water?”
“People think you need a hammer to hit on the head to make them understand anything,” Laliberte says. But “if you touch people it stays longer in the heart, and then it’s integrated into their concern.”
He said he will guide One Drop through its “baby steps” but eventually hand it off and find another cause. “There’s other things I want to do.”
The Cirque touch isn’t sure magic for everything. “Viva Elvis” will be its first Las Vegas show to fail in nearly 20 years. “I’m not living in the past. If it didn’t work, it didn’t work. We react(ed) fast,” he says.
“I can’t guarantee success all the time,” he adds, “but I can certainly guarantee the commitment of my people. And that’s what we’re here for.”
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.