Franco Dragone, force behind Cirque du Soleil, dies at 69

Franco Dragone, force behind Cirque du Soleil, dies at 69
Photo: Belga

The family of the late Franco Dragone have expressed thanks for the many messages of condolence received following the death of the director last week in Cairo at the age of 69.

Dragone was best known for his work with Cirque du Soleil, whose flamboyant shows he directed, turning them into a global success. He was in Egypt on another project when he suffered a heart attack.

Dragone was born in Cairano in the Italian region of Campania and moved to Belgium at the age of seven – when his father worked as a miner in La Louviere in the Hainaut province. He continued living in the town, although his work with Cirque du Soleil took him across the world.

But his beginnings were far from the magical world of the circus. Initially, his interests centred on the political theatre of the 1970s, spurred on by his surroundings and the radicalism of the time, as well as the atmosphere of the Conservatory where his parents sent him to be educated.

He joined Cirque du Soleil in 1982 in Montreal, where the company had recently been set up. The circus could hardly be further removed from the engaged, earnest theatre he had been used to, and was immediately hooked.

Later, in an interview with De Standaard, he looked back on his former convictions as “boring”, and explained his new passion for shows that mix serious themes with fantastical dreams.

“Every production I create has to be seen as through the eyes of a child,” he told the paper.

In 2000 he left the circus behind and extended his reach, taking on projects like a show in Las Vegas for Celine Dion, and setting up his own company to produce shows including an opera that cast no fewer than 850 of the people of La Louviere.

However real life intervened, and it was no fairy tale. In 2012 he was investigated on suspicion of tax fraud, money laundering and corruption. That investigation dragged on for eight years, when the prosecutor called for him to be sent for trial.

In 2020, however, he was diagnosed as suffering from leukemia, while he expressed the hope he might be cured.

The director’s remains will be repatriated to Belgium “as soon as possible” the family said in a communique.


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