A Cirque du Soleil worker killed Tuesday under the big top near AT&T Park in San Francisco was the son of the company’s co-founder, officials said Wednesday.
Olivier Rochette died after being struck in the head by a telescopic lift just over an hour before showtime for “Luzia,” the latest production from the famed Montreal-based circus that’s playing through Jan. 29 in Lot A of the ballpark.
Rochette was the son of Cirque du Soleil co-founder Gilles Ste-Croix, who retired from the company in 2014 but has served as an adviser in recent years.
“I am heartbroken,” Cirque du Soleil CEO Daniel Lamarre said in a statement. “I wish to extend in my name and in the name of all Cirque du Soleil employees my sincerest sympathies and offer my full support to Gilles and his family. Olivier has always been a member of our tight family and a truly beloved colleague.”
Rochette was hit in the head by the heavy piece of machinery around 6:45 p.m. as workers readied the intricate layout for the evening’s 8 p.m. show. Paramedics took him to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. San Francisco police deemed the death an “industrial accident.”
State workplace safety officials are looking into what led to the accident, the first deadly incident involving Cirque du Soleil in California.
“We are currently gathering more information about this tragic accident and will update you with more details as soon as we are in a position to do so,” Cirque du Soleil officials said in a statement Wednesday. Tuesday evening’s performance was canceled and ticket holders were told they will receive refunds. The two performances scheduled for Wednesday also were canceled.
Rochette lived in Montreal and traveled with the touring circus, working as a technician.
His father, Ste-Croix, was a stilt walker who co-founded the company in 1984 with fellow French Canadians Guy Laliberté and Daniel Gauthier.
While Laliberté focused primarily on the business end of Cirque du Soleil, Ste-Croix acted as director of creation and chief concept creator for the organization as it grew to 5,000 employees involved in some 18 productions around the world.
“Ever since its inception in 1984 Ste-Croix has been the true sunshine of the Cirque du Soleil, the feel-good guy who can light up a room with his smile and convince difficult people to work together,” the Gazette newspaper in Montreal wrote in 2006.
“Luzia” is a colorful performance with costumes and effects evoking whimsical imagery of Mexico that incorporates cascading water, a revolving disk and a large treadmill.
Deaths at Cirque du Soleil are rare. The prosperous entertainment organization prides itself on its safety record, and Cal/OSHA’s online database shows it has not issued any violations or investigations against the company.
But the company has been fined in Nevada, where several productions operate in the grandiose Las Vegas casinos.
In June 2013, acrobat Sarah Guyard-Guillor, 31, plunged 92 feet to her death when her safety wire detached during a performance of “Ka” at the MGM Grand hotel.
The accident was the first death during a performance in the company’s more-than-30-year history. Nevada OSHA fined Cirque du Soleil $25,000 for exposing its workers to workplace hazards.
But while the death may have been the first fatality in front of a live audience, performers and workers have died or been seriously injured in training. Oleksandr Zhurov, a 24-year-old Ukrainian acrobat, died in 2009 after falling off a trampoline while training in Montreal.
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