René Angélil and Celine Dion in 2012 (Photo: Getty Images)
After a protracted battle with throat cancer, René Angélil died on Thursday morning at his home in Las Vegas at the age of 73 — but the music manager’s legacy goes far beyond his career to include one of Hollywood’s most remarkable love stories as well. Despite an almost 30-year age gap, family objections, and both living and working together under the microscope of fame, Angélil and Celine Dion, proved that love really can win.
It was their work that first brought the pair together when Angélil became Dion’s manager in 1980. He was 38 and in the prime of his career. She was 12. Even at that young age, Dion felt connected to Angélil because she knew he believed in her talent. “I went into his office and I sang in front of him and I was 12 years old and we’ve been working together since that time,” Dion later recalled.
Their connection shifted as Dion became a young woman, however. “Maybe at 17, 18 years old, my feelings started to change for him,” she revealed to Access Hollywood. “I kind of saw him differently.” When the superstar singer turned 19, she began dating Angélil.
Not surprisingly, not everyone was excited about teenage Dion dating a man who was her manager, 26 years her senior, and who had already had several failed marriages under his belt. “I have to say that for my mom, he was not the prince charming — the ideal prince charming,” Dion explained. Though Dion knew that her mom had seen this relationship coming before it hit (as moms often do), the reality of the situation was still “very difficult” for her. “When I told her I had some really strong feelings for René she tried everything to kill him and to make me snap out of it. I was very frustrated and mad at first, but she tried to make me understand that this man tried marriage twice before, has three children — he’s not responsible.”
They posed cheek to cheek at the Grammys in 1999. (Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage)
Ultimately, Dion’s mother lost. “She had no choice. Love won,” the singer explained. Dion and Angélil got married in 1994. Their storybook romance continued as Dion’s career — under her husband’s management — exploded. (Just a few short years after they tied the knot, she sang “My Heart Will Go On,” which not only served as the theme for Titanic, but also for an entire generation of hopeless romantics as well.)
In 1999, however, the couple hit rough waters when Angélil was diagnosed with throat cancer and underwent two surgeries and six weeks of radiation. “When something like this happens to you it hits you so hard,” Dion said. “But I felt very strong because I said to myself, ‘René needs me maybe for the first time in my life.’”
The following year, when Angélil was declared cancer-free, Dion decided to take a two-year hiatus from work to spend more time with him. The songstress kicked off her lengthy break by renewing her vows to her husband. The lavish affair, which was feted by 235 guests, was held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and had an Arabian Nights theme that honored Angélil’s Lebanese and Syrian heritage. The pair pulled out all of the stops for the event, including dancers, jugglers, musicians, singers, camels, and exotic birds to help set the mood. In other words, it was quite possibly the celebration of the century.
According to Dion’s spokesperson at the time, however, it wasn’t about the elaborate party for the pair, but rather a way “to mark the start of her time out.” But Dion later revealed she had a different motivation. “For the year 2000, we renewed our vows, just to prove again that we were right!” Dion joked to the Las Vegas Sun in July 2013.
In 2001, not long after Dion’s break began, she and Angélil welcomed their first child together, a son named René Charles. Indeed, the power couple seemed focused on growing their family — and, nine years later, the pair welcomed a set of twins, Eddy and Nelson.
The couple posed with their twin boys and son René Charles on the front steps of Caesars Palace in 2011. (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Despite their continual support of each other, however, their marriage wasn’t always perfect. “René and I had our tough times,” Dion admitted to the Las Vegas Sun. “It wasn’t always easy. We had tension between us. It’s never easy being husband and wife, but add to that we are in business together, dealing with all the added pressures of shows, concerts, tours, traveling. It was hard — a lot of hard work.”
She also implied that their vow renewal wasn’t only to remind everyone else they were right about their union, but also to remind themselves. “We made a commitment to each other not once but a second time here in Las Vegas. Those promises are for a lifetime together, and, because we respect each other, we will keep them forever,” she mused. “Talking openly together about everything might start out as a challenge, but, once you are through it the first time, it gets easier from then on.”
Celine cozied up to her husband on the opening night of A New Day, her Las Vegas residency show, in 2003. (Photo: WireImage)
Less than six months later, in December 2013, Angélil’s health again took a turn and the music manager underwent another procedure to remove a tumor from his throat. Dion released a statement in March 2014 explaining her wishes for her husband. “I don’t want René to stress out with work-related issues. I want him to focus on getting back to 100%. I’ve been doing my shows at the Colosseum and everything’s under control,” she said. “At home we’ve been spending a lot of quality time with the family. We feel very fortunate that we’ve been able to get the best care possible and we thank God every day for helping us get through this ordeal.”
(Photo: Splash News)
The singer changed her tune that August, however, when she postponed her Las Vegas residency, canceled her Asia tour, and postponed all of her show business activities indefinitely so that she could tend to Angélil. “I want to devote every ounce of my strength and energy to my husband’s healing, and to do so, it’s important for me to dedicate this time to him and to our children,” Dion explained to People. Around this time, she also revealed how bad things had gotten with her husband’s health. “He can’t eat, so I feed him,” she told Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. “He’s got a feeding tube. I have to feed him three times a day.” She was also caring for three children, two of whom were under 3 years old, at the time.
René and Celine at the Oscars in 2011 (Photo: Getty Images)
In March 2015, the couple’s friend Josh Groban shared some rare insight into Angélil’s mind. “If there’s one thing that Rene loves just beneath the family, her, their personal life, it’s her voice, her ability,” he said. “It gives him life.”
That summer, Dion returned to Las Vegas after her yearlong hiatus. “Rene is a champion. I loved him all my life,” Dion told Taste of Life. “I don’t want to sound pretentious, but I am his favorite singer and he wants to see me back on the stage singing again!” Still, she had her reservations. “I didn’t want to be here at first. I don’t need it,” she told USA Today. “But my biggest job is to tell my husband, 'We’re fine. I’ll take care of our kids. You’ll watch us from another spot.’”
Celine took sons Eddy, left, and Nelson to Disneyland in October for their 5th birthday. (Photo: Getty Images)
According to Dion, her husband’s only dying wish was a simple one. “I’ll say, 'You’re scared? I understand. Talk to me about it’ … And Rene says to me, 'I want to die in your arms,’” she confessed, adding that she replied by assuring him, “I’ll be there. You’ll die in my arms.”
Despite how heartbreaking the situation was for both of them, Dion remained determined to be a strong wife and mother. “You can have your shaking knees at the end, but when someone needs help, it’s not time to cry,” she explained. “Afterwards, sure. But not yet.”
Dion shared this wedding photo last month on their 21st anniversary. (Photo: Instagram)
Asked what the secret was to her 21-year marriage, Dion didn’t miss a beat. “Communication, it’s the most important,” she said, though that was really just the starting point of the bond with the man she called “the leader of the band all my life.” Reflecting on their undeniable connection, Dion mused, “We laugh. We joke. We kid each other. We want our marriage to last forever. Talk over everything and you’ll find you are still on the honeymoon. We still miss each other when we are apart. We can’t imagine life without each other.”