Michael Flatley

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Michael Flatley
Flatley alone cropped.jpg
Flatley performing in Feet of Flames,
in Taipei, 2006.
Born Michael Ryan Flatley
(1958-07-16) July 16, 1958 (age 60)
Chicago, Illinois
Nationality American, Irish
Education Brother Rice High School
Years active 1969–2016
Known for Former Irish dancer, actor, occasional broadcast presenter, writer, flautist, choreographer
Riverdance (1994–present)
Lord of the Dance (1996–present)
Feet of Flames (1998–2001)
Celtic Tiger Live (2004–2007)
Net worth €376 million (2017)
  • Beata Dziąba
    (m. 1986; div. 1997)
  • Niamh O'Brien
    (m. 2006)
Children 1
Website www.michaelflatley.com

Michael Ryan Flatley (born July 16, 1958) is a former Irish-American dancer, choreographer, and musician. He became internationally known for Irish dance shows Riverdance, Lord of the Dance, Feet of Flames, and Celtic Tiger Live. Flatley's shows have played to more than 60 million people in 60 countries and have grossed more than $1 billion.[1]

Flatley is credited with reinventing traditional Irish dance by incorporating new rhythms, syncopation, and upper body movements, which were previously absent from the dance. He is in the Guinness World Records for tap dancing 35 times per second and his feet were at one time insured for $57.6 million. Flatley retired in 2016 due to constant spinal, knee, foot, and rib pain.[2]

Early life[edit]

Flatley is a native of South Side, Chicago. He is of Irish background. His parents, Michael from Co.Sligo and Eilish from Co.Carlow were both born in Ireland, but emigrated to the United States in 1947, 11 years before Michael's birth. Michael Sr. was a plumber who inspired his son by playing Irish music and Eilish was a gifted step dancer. His grandmother, Hannah Ryan, was a champion dancer.[3] Michael is the second of five children. He has three sisters, Anne-Marie, Eliza and Thomasina, as well as a brother, Patrick.[4]

Beginning in the late 1960s, when Flatley was 11 years old, he was taught dance by Dennis G. Dennehy at the Dennehy School of Irish Dance in Chicago.[5] Flatley went to Brother Rice High School, an all-boys Catholic private school on Chicago's Southwest Side.

In 1975, at age 17, Flatley was the first American to win a World Irish Dance title at Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne, the Irish dancing championships.[6]

In 1975 and 1976, Flatley won twice in the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil concert flute competitions.[7]

Also in 1975, Flatley competed in the amateur boxing Chicago Golden Gloves tournament in the 126 pound novice division; however, he lost to Kenneth Reed on February 25.[8]


Early career[edit]

After graduating high school, Flatley worked as a stockbroker, a blackjack gambler, and a flautist.[9] From 1978 to 1979, Flatley toured with Green Fields of America.[10] In the 1980s, he toured with The Chieftains but the relationship soured when Flatley wanted to become a full time member of the band.[9]


In 1994, Flatley, fellow Chieftains performer Jean Butler, and vocal ensemble Anúna were invited to perform a 7-minute show for the interval act of the Eurovision Song Contest 1994, which was held in Ireland. The performance did something never done before in Irish dance - it "made the dance sexy". After receiving worldwide acclaim, Flatley pushed to make the show into a full length performance. The show was called Riverdance, produced by Moya Doherty, with many numbers choreographed by Flatley. In September 1995, after the show sold out, Flatley got into a dispute with producers over his salary and royalty fees and was fired the night before the show was set to open in London, replaced with Colin Dunne.[11][12] Flatley, who had a playboy lifestyle, an ego, and wanted to take the spotlight, also did not work well with Butler, who had a different mentality.[13][9]

Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames[edit]

Immediately after the Riverdance split, Flatley decided to create his own show, Lord of the Dance. It premiered in June 1996 at the Point Theatre (now 3Arena) in Dublin then made its U.K. premiere at the London Coliseum.[14] The music for the show was composed by Ronan Hardiman. In 1997, Flatley earned £36 million, ranking him 25th among the world's highest earning entertainers.[9]

In 1998, Flatley created an expanded version of the show called Feet of Flames which was performed outdoors in Hyde Park, London on a 4-tier hydraulic stage, with a live band including guitarists and violins, and over 100 dancers performing on all 4 levels of the stage, again with music by Ronan Hardiman.[15] The show featured six new numbers; one of which is Flatley's solo. Flatley had to pay approximately £1 million to settle a wrongful termination lawsuit from his former manager, John Reid.[9]

In 1999, he produced another version of that show that included half of the original show and half new material. Titled Feet of Flames: The Victory Tour, the show was performed a single-level stage and toured Europe in 2000 and the U.S. in 2001.[2]

Celtic Tiger[edit]

Flatley's next show, Celtic Tiger Live, opened in July 2005. The show explores the history of the Irish people and Irish emigration to the U.S., fusing a wide range of dance styles, including jazz. The show also includes popular elements from his previous shows, such as Flatley's flute solos and the line of dancers in the finale.[16]

Flatley wrote "I will be a dancer until the day I die" in the program book of the show.[17]

On November 15, 2006, Flatley was admitted to a private London hospital with a viral infection.[18] All the fall and winter tours of Celtic Tiger Live were cancelled. He was discharged two weeks later.[19]

Television performances (2007-2009)[edit]

In November 2007, Flatley and a troupe of male dancers performed on Dancing with the Stars in the U.S.[20] In October 2008, he appeared as a guest judge on an episode of the show, filling in for Len Goodman. He performed the solo "Capone" from Celtic Tiger on the show. Flatley was also the host of Superstars of Dance, an NBC series that ran for 5 episodes in early 2009.

Return to the stage (2009-2010)[edit]

In December 2009, Flatley returned to the stage for a limited run of the "Hyde Park" version of Feet of Flames in Taiwan. The run of shows had to be extended to meet the demand for tickets.[21]

In 2010, he returned to headline the Lord of the Dance show, with performances in arenas in England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.[22]

Lord of the Dance 3D, the 3D film of the return tour, debuted in theaters worldwide in 2011.[23] The movie featured performances with new sets, new costumes, state-of-the-art lighting, pyrotechnics, and projections.[24] The 3D film was also released on Blu-ray and a DVD and Blu-ray disc, Michael Flatley Returns as Lord of the Dance, were created.[23]

Flute album (2011)[edit]

In 2011, Flatley released On A Different Note, a flute album.[25] The 25 tracks include airs and tunes he has played in his shows, other traditional tunes, and new compositions.[26]

A Night to Remember[edit]

On May 18, 2014, Flatley recorded a one-off 60 minute ITV Music Specials episode titled Michael Flatley: A Night to Remember celebrating his long career. The show aired on June 1, 2014 and was presented by Christine Bleakley.[27]

Injuries, farewell tour, and retirement[edit]

In May 2015, Flatley revealed that much of his vertebral column was irreparably damaged and that he had a damaged left knee, a torn right calf/triceps surae muscle, two ruptured Achilles tendons, a fractured rib, and a recurring broken bone in his foot.[28]

In November 2015, Flatley's show Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games premiered at the Lyric Theatre, a Broadway theatre. Due to his injuries, Flatley was only able to perform in the final two numbers of the performance. After shows in New York, Flatley went on a final tour in the United States.[29] Flatley's last show was in Las Vegas on St. Patrick's Day 2016.[2]

Trump inauguration[edit]

In January 2017, Flatley introduced his troupe for a performance at the inauguration of Donald Trump. While the decision was controversial, Flatley called it "a great honour".[30]


In 2018, Flatley wrote, directed, financed, and starred in Blackbird, a spy fiction movie.[31]

Awards and achievements[edit]

In 1988, Flatley received the National Heritage Fellowship, the highest folk-related honor awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts.[32]

In December 2001, Flatley became the first recipient of the Irish Dancing Commission Fellowship award, an honorary degree in Irish dance, and was also made a Fellow of the American Irish Dance Teachers' Association.[33] In March 2003, Irish America magazine named Flatley Irish American of the Year. In 2004, Flatley received an honorary doctorate degree from University College Dublin, and that same year received the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor in New York.[34][33]

In 2007, the Freedom of the City of Cork was conferred on Flatley at a ceremony in Cork's City Hall.[35] In 2008, he was conferred with the Freedom of the Borough of Sligo at a ceremony in Sligo City Hall.[21] Also in 2008, The Variety Club of Ireland presented Flatley with their Entertainer of the Decade Award.[36]

In 2011, he was inducted into Irish America magazine's Irish America Hall of Fame.[1]

On October 24, 2013, Flatley received the Lifetime Achievement Award at The Irish Post Awards on Park Lane.[37]

Personal life[edit]

In 2001, Flatley purchased Castlehyde, the house originally owned by Douglas Hyde, the first president of Ireland, in North Cork, then in a derelict condition, for €3 million. Flatley spent €27 million renovating the mansion and another €20 million furnishing it with artwork and antiques. In 2015, Flatley purchased a mansion in Belgravia, just off Eaton Square, for €28 million and listed Castlehyde for sale for €20 million.[38]

In addition to Castlehyde and his London mansion, Flatley owns valuable properties in the Caribbean, New York, Beverly Hills, and Villefranche-sur-Mer. He has invested a significant portion of his wealth in Berkshire Hathaway.[39]

In 2003, Flatley was falsely accused of rape by real estate agent Tyna Marie Robertson. Flatley maintained that the sex was consensual, and in the subsequent court case, Robertson was ordered to pay $11 million compensation to Flatley for defamation and extortion.[40]

In 2006, Flatley released Lord of the Dance: My Story, his autobiography.

In April 2006, Flatley spoke about his facial skin cancer.[41]

In June 2006, Flatley began dating dancer Niamh O'Brien, who danced in several of his shows. They were married in a Roman Catholic ceremony in Fermoy, County Cork, on October 14, 2006, with a reception at Castlehyde.[42][43] He and his wife have a son, Michael St. James, born in 2007.

In 2010, Flatley dedicated the Garden of Memory and Music in County Sligo, the village his father left to seek a new life in America. The ceremony included a speech and an impromptu performance of one of his father's favorite tunes.[44]

Also in 2010, Flatley participated in the fundraising JP McManus Pro-Am in Adare, County Limerick, Ireland.[45]

Flatley has raised over €1 million for his charitable foundation by selling paintings made using his feet.[46]


  1. ^ a b McGoldrick, Debbie (April 2011). "Michael Flatley: Irish America Hall of Fame". Irish America. 
  2. ^ a b c "Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley in his farewell performance". Irish Central. March 18, 2016. 
  3. ^ O'Donnell, Maureen (24 June 2016). "Michael Flatley Sr., father to 'Lord of the Dance,' founded suburban plumbing business". Chicago Sun Times. 
  4. ^ Slater, Sarah (14 March 2015). "Michael Flatley left devastated after death of his beloved father". The Mirror. 
  5. ^ Giangrasse Kates, Joan (20 January 2013). "Dennis G. Dennehy, 1939-2013". Chicago Tribune. 
  6. ^ Dougherty, Tara (June 2009). "The World of Irish Dance". Irish America. 
  7. ^ Flatley, Michael; Thompson, Douglas (2006). Lord of the Dance: My Story. London: Pan Macmillan. pp. 1–8. ISBN 9780330445405. 
  8. ^ "1975 Sectional Results". BoxRec. 
  9. ^ a b c d e "Lord of dance appears to fall flat on his ego". Irish Times. 21 October 1998. 
  10. ^ Moloney, Mick (16 March 2018). "How One Impromptu Jam Session Spawned a Sweeping Irish-American Music Revival". Smithsonian. 
  11. ^ Hartigan, Patti (27 May 1997). "Lord of 'Lord of the Dance' gives his side of the story". Baltimore Sun. 
  12. ^ Roberts, Sophie (20 January 2017). "Political moves Who is Michael Flatley? Irish dance legend appearing at Donald Trump inauguration ball – all you need to know". The Sun. 
  13. ^ Warren, Jane (23 August 2014). "What became of the Riverdance Queen? Jean Butler explains why she left the limelight". Daily Express. 
  14. ^ "Lord of the Dance: MICHAEL FLATLEY". 
  15. ^ "Feet Of Flames". 
  16. ^ Fricker, Karen (2 May 2006). "Review: 'Celtic Tiger'". Variety. 
  17. ^ "He's a whirlwind on stage but the Lord of the Dance is human after all". Sunday Independent (Ireland). 19 November 2006. 
  18. ^ Castle, Tim (16 November 2006). ""Celtic" dancer Flatley in hospital, cancels tour". Reuters. 
  19. ^ "Lord of the Dance star Flatley leaves hospital". London Evening Standard. 18 November 2006. 
  20. ^ "Former 'Riverdance' star Michael Flatley to perform on 'Dancing With the Stars'". The Orange County Register. 16 November 2007. 
  21. ^ a b "Michael Flatley Smashes Box Office Records in Taiwan" (Press release). Business Wire. 21 December 2009. 
  22. ^ Ng, David (22 April 2010). "Michael Flatley returning to 'Lord of the Dance'". Los Angeles Times. 
  23. ^ a b "Lord of the Dance in 3D". IMDB. 
  24. ^ Cox, Gordon (8 December 2010). "'Lord' dances to screens in 3D". Variety. 
  25. ^ Harty, Patricia (December 2015). "What Are You Like? Michael Flatley: The Last Dance". Irish America. 
  26. ^ "Flatley's first flute CD released". United Press International. 14 March 2011. 
  27. ^ "Michael Flatley: A Night to Remember". entertainment.ie. 1 June 2014. 
  28. ^ McGrory, Linda (6 July 2015). "Cancer spurred Michael Flatley to take stock of life". Irish Examiner. 
  29. ^ "Review: Michael Flatley's New Show Has Unicorns, Rainbows Too". The New York Times. 15 November 2015. (subscription required)
  30. ^ HEALY, CLAIRE; MORAN, BARRY (20 January 2017). "TRUMP'S SUPERHOOFER". The Sun. 
  31. ^ Heritage, Stuart (6 July 2018). "Michael Flatley's self-financed spy thriller: what you need to know". The Guardian. 
  32. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships 1988". National Endowment for the Arts. 
  33. ^ a b Watson, William E.; Halus Jr., Eugene J. (2015). Irish Americans: The History and Culture of a People. ABC-CLIO. p. 306. 
  34. ^ Downes, John (3 November 2004). "Michael Flatley and Charlie Bird among those honoured by UCD". The Irish Times. 
  35. ^ Kelleher, Olivia (4 June 2007). "Freedom of Cork city conferred on Michael Flatley". The Irish Times. 
  36. ^ "Variety Club puts best foot forward with Flatley gong". independent.ie. 14 March 2008. 
  37. ^ "Michael Flatley shines at Irish Post Business Awards". The Irish Post. 6 November 2013. 
  38. ^ Riegel, Ralph (13 December 2017). "No sale: Michael Flatley changes tack as beloved Castlehyde mansion remains for sale after two years". independent.ie. 
  39. ^ "Business Profiles: Michael Flatley". independent.ie. 
  40. ^ "Flatley wins $11m over rape claim". BBC News. 8 December 2007. 
  41. ^ Shaikh, Thair (16 November 2006). "'Riverdance' star Flatley seriously ill in hospital". The Independent. 
  42. ^ Riegel, Ralph (29 September 2006). "Lavish wedding day for dance lord Flatley". Irish Independent. 
  43. ^ "Lady and Lord of the dance get married". Irish Examiner. 14 October 2006. 
  44. ^ "Garden of Music opened by Flatley". The Sligo Champion. 23 June 2010. 
  45. ^ "Golfing Stars shine bright at Adare Manor". 20 April 2018. 
  46. ^ Parsons, Michael (4 August 2015). "Michael Flatley's paintings generate sales of €1 million". The Irish Times. 

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