By Chris Korotky

The best of the best. One of the most skilled performers I have ever known. Beautiful and honest. A true light in the world. An exceptional artist and human being. Beautiful heart. A kind soul. Legend.

Feature Photo: @yannarnophoto

The best of the best. One of the most skilled performers I have ever known. Beautiful and honest. A true light in the world. An exceptional artist and human being. Beautiful heart. A kind soul. Legend.

Those are just a few of the descriptions bestowed upon renowned Cirque du Soleil artist Yann Arnaud, who lost his life at just 38 years old in a tragic accident while performing in Cirque’s big top show, VOLTA. In the final days of the Tampa leg of the tour, Arnaud suffered a fall while performing his aerial straps act, which, according to his Instagram profile had debuted just days earlier.

As news of the heartbreaking loss began to spread, former castmates, teammates and friends took to social media to offer their condolences and share their memories of the devoted artist. Many changed their profile pictures to a black and white Cirque du Soleil logo with a dark ribbon overlaying the logo, in his memory and honor.

Arnaud, a former French gymnast, was a 15-year veteran of the company and had also performed in other acrobatic productions, including the Las Vegas show Le Rêve. A man of incredible skill and talent with an unparalleled work ethic, Arnaud was most regarded for his kind heart, generous personality and loving spirit. Even those who had only known him a short time noted they felt the impact of his kindness.

“I didn’t know you long, but I knew you long enough to feel your power and witness your beauty as a human,” one former castmate expressed.

Credit: Facebook Fundraiser by Chris Phi

In addition to the touching tributes that have been pouring in, Chris Phi, a former castmate of Arnaud’s who now performs in Cirque du Soleil’s original Las Vegas show Mystère, has started a fundraising campaign through Facebook for Arnaud’s family, including wife Inna Gorelova, and two beautiful daughters.

“It’s been an amazing year full of happiness, adventure and love, but also one of great sadness,” Phi wrote. “For my birthday this year I will be starting a collection for Yann’s family, hoping that the money we raise will help ease some burdens that have come with his passing. Beyond that, I will ask that they be used for anything his daughters might need. I want to do something that will honor the memory of our kind, passionate, and crazy talented circus brother. I invite you all to join me. Love love love.”

That wonderful gesture has been greeted with open arms and generosity from friends, colleagues and strangers alike, all moved by the brilliance of Arnaud’s life and legacy.

Cast members of Wynn Las Vegas’ Le Reve production take a knee at the end of a performance in tribute to their former castmate Yann Arnaud.

“There is great strength and an indescribable bond created between artists who allow themselves to be vulnerable in expressing their art form, together,” wrote supporter Cherise Barton. “In the circus world, this energy, this love, this thread is unbreakable and it is infinite. The outpouring of support for our dear friend Yann Arnaud and his two young girls has been nothing less than magical.”

Phi’s original goal was to raise $500, but after only a few days, more than 600 people had joined the movement, raising more than $30,000 for the family, with that number growing hourly. It’s a testament to both Arnaud’s tremendous legacy as well as the close-knit nature of the circus arts world, known for its tight bond and giving nature.

Below we share a sampling of some of the hundreds of moving messages that have been pouring in on social media in tribute to Arnaud…

Sam Welbourn, who worked with Arnaud in two productions:

 “I first met Yann in 2002 when we worked together on the Tarzan show in Disneyland Paris, and it didn’t take me long to realize just what an incredible and amazing talent he was. I also had the pleasure of sharing the stage with him in Le Rêve for many years. I never referred to him by his name, to me he was always Beau Mec – which means Beautiful Guy in French – and this stands true to me more than ever. He was a beautiful guy with a beautiful soul. He was such a close friend, and I will forever miss him. My thoughts are with his family and friends. My only peace is that I know he was taken whilst doing what he loved to do and that was to fly. Keep flying Beau Mec!! Je t’aime mon ami.”

Louanne Madorma-Williams, Casting Director of Le Rêve:

“There are no words that express a loss like this… When an exceptional artist and human being is taken from us so young, I am just left speechless… The only words I can find are the ones that describe Yann Arnaud… Beautiful, Caring, Talented, Creative, Amazing, Loved, Valued… I could go on and on… Your Le Rêve family loves you Yann – you will be missed so much…”

Yann Cucherat, French Olympic Gymnast:

“Yann Arnaud nous quitte prématurément. Ancien gymnaste, il était devenu un magnifique artiste du cirque du soleil. Ce tragique accident lors du spectacle Volta laissera dans le monde de la gymnastique et des arts du cirque un grand vide. Nos pensées sont pour ses proches.”

Translation: “Yann Arnaud left us prematurely. A former Gymnast, he had become a beautiful Cirque du Soleil Artist. This tragic accident at the Volta show will leave a great void in the world of gymnastics and circus arts. Our thoughts are for his loved ones.”

Will Geary, castmate of Arnaud in VOLTA:

 “Our Volta family experienced a devastating loss… Yann was an incredible artist and human being, deeply loved by ALL. On day one of joining VOLTA, he was the first person I saw practicing in the tent. He amazed me with what he could do. I wish I had an ounce of the strength, discipline and talent he possessed. He was a star… My thoughts and prayers are with his family and my colleagues during this difficult time.”

Chris Tollette, former castmate of Arnaud:

 “I will miss you my friend. You were so talented in all arts and walks of life. I will miss our exchange of words and more importantly [our camaraderie]. It was an honor to fly with you and share the same passion of photography. To the stars my friend. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family. Rest In Peace.”

Charlotte Sumain:

“My Heart is Broken. It’s a tragic day for all the Circus World. You were and will always be a model for all of us! Tu t’envoles pour de vrai… Love You, Yann.”

Ryan Lyons, former castmate of Arnaud:

“Rest in Peace my friend Yann. Our hearts are heavy. As a performer you were devoted to your art. My condolences to the friends and family you have left behind. As acrobats, we know the risks involved while performing, but it can never prepare you for the worst. As a circus community we need to continue to support each other and do what we can to help his friends and family during this time.”

Jenna Haddock, former castmate:

“To my friends, my family, my life, I hold you close today, tonight, and many tomorrows. This one man smiled every night he lifted me out of the water, and we danced in the air. He showed me light and love coming into this magical circus world. I didn’t know you long, but I knew you long enough to feel your power and witness your beauty as a human. Prayers for a peaceful passing. Prayers to your family, Yann Arnaud.”

Harry Owen, castmate of Arnaud in VOLTA:

A truly sad day. A friend, work colleague and, most importantly, a role model to me and many others. I will miss sharing the stage with you. RIP Yann.”

Mike Wynn, former castmate:

 “We’ve lost a legend… Yann was inspiring, insanely talented, and kind. I always looked up to you, and [am] honored we got to perform together. Our community has lost a really special one.”

Brent Borbon:

“Heartbroken. When I first moved to Le Rêve, I was scared from the sheer epic intensity of it all, and you were the one that welcomed me in calmness and smiles. It felt like family, and now I know it to truly be that. You’re alive in how I choose to be the way you were to me. I’m grateful to have shared the stage with you, Yann. My heart goes out to his family, all the performers in Volta, and the many that have been touched by his beautiful spirit. You are missed my brother.”

Marina Nicole, performer in Le Rêve:

 “RIP Yann. We don’t know how many days we have here on Earth, but I do believe you made the best of them. Blessings to your beautiful wife and daughters and the rest of your family.”

Along with his family and friends, the team at Inside Gymnastics mourns his loss, salutes his legacy and offers its thoughts, prayers and heartfelt love to his family… By all accounts, you were one-of-a-kind, Yann. You will be deeply missed, but your legacy and memory will continue to shine bright forever…