Cirque du Soleil performer killed in fall remembered as 'terrific person'

Longtime circus performer Yann Arnaud, a father of two, died of his injuries after falling during an aerial stunt in Cirque du Soleil show Volta on Saturday in Tampa, Fla.

Experienced aerialist Yann Arnaud died of injuries after stunt in show Volta in Tampa, Fla., Saturday

Yann Arnaud, seen here during a recent Cirque du Soleil performance, died after falling while performing during a show on Saturday in Tampa, Fla. (Michael Kass via Associated Press)

Police in Tampa, Fla., say they have no reason to believe the fall that killed a Cirque du Soleil aerialist Saturday "is anything except a tragic accident," as their investigation into the death of Yann Arnaud continues this week.

Arnaud, a married father of two, was performing an aerial-straps number when he fell to the stage during a performance of the Cirque du Soleil show Volta in Tampa.

Steve Hegarty, a public information officer for the Tampa Police Department, said Arnaud "apparently lost his handhold and fell 15 to 20 feet to the ground."

"We have no reason to believe this is anything except a tragic accident, but when something like this occurs, we do like to look things over to rule out that there may have been anything else," Hegarty told CBC News.

Arnaud was transported to a local hospital after the fall, where he died of his injuries a few hours later, according to a statement issued by Cirque du Soleil Sunday.

Hegarty said a medical examiner was scheduled to perform an autopsy on Arnaud's body Monday.

"There's some video and, tragically, a lot of witnesses. That in some ways makes it easier, although that makes it a much more tragic story," he said.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration told CBC News it was also investigating what happened but had no comment for now.

'A good friend, a caring father'

Condolences have been pouring in for Arnaud on social media.

​"You were a terrific person, a good friend, a caring father," CirFit, a clothing brand made by circus performers, said in a post on Instagram.

"Yann, we will always remember you, your creativity, as well as the contribution you have made for this world! Thank you for everything! You are forever in our hearts," the post read.

Yann Arnaud was performing in an aerial-strap act in Tampa when he fell. (YouTube)

Amos Glick, an actor and comedian who knew Arnaud, said he was mourning the loss of the "gifted circus artist."

"Everytime we encountered each other there was his huge smile, then I would crack a joke and then we'd shake hands.... His joke back was to seemingly crush my hand ... Every time.... And every time I would reach out for his hand, anyway." Glick wrote on Facebook. "I'm gonna miss that."

Simon Ata, a personal trainer, described Arnaud as "an amazing friend, performer, photographer and human being."

"You will be dearly missed," he wrote on Facebook.

In a statement issued Sunday afternoon, Daniel Lamarre, president and CEO of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, said Arnaud had been with the company for more than 15 years and "was loved by all who had the chance to know him."

Arnaud joined the company's Volta show in September 2016, according to his Facebook page, performing on the solo ring and swing rings.

Before Saturday's show, Arnaud had written on Instagram that a "straps duo act" was finally going to be added to the performance "after so much work and training and staging."

Cirque du Soleil said it was gathering information about what happened and collaborating with local authorities in their investigation.

"Over the coming days and weeks, our focus will be on supporting Yann's family and our employees, especially the Volta team, as we go through these difficult times together," Lamarre said.

Experienced performer

Arnaud was from Champigny-sur-Marne, a suburb of Paris, France, according to his Facebook page. He lived in Miami.

Several images posted on his Instagram and Facebook pages show him with his wife and a young daughter.

Originally a competitive gymnast, Arnaud was training 20 hours per week by the age of 10, he told Radio-Canada in an in-depth interview last year.

"Instead of going to play with friends, I would be in the gym when I was young, and those were my afternoons, five or six days a week," Arnaud said at the time.

After suffering from back problems early in his career, Arnaud shifted his focus to training young gymnasts.

He then made his stage debut in a Tarzan show produced at Disneyland Park in Paris.

"That's where my love of the stage revealed itself," Arnaud told Radio-Canada.

He graduated from France's Institut National du Sport, de l'Expertise et de la Performance in 2001, according to his Facebook page.

He began his career with Cirque du Soleil in 2003, performing as part of the company's show O in Las Vegas for two years and then as part of the touring show TOTEM before joining Volta last year.

On the CirFit website, Arnaud said he "made [his] life around circus and fitness".

"I love to be on stage and perform and I cannot see myself doing something else," he wrote.

With files from Steve Rukavina and Radio-Canada