'Titanic' Tales: Studio Head Sherry Lansing Wasn't Crazy About Céline Dion's 'My Heart Will Go On,' Either

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<em>Titanic</em> (Photo: ©20th Century Fox/Everett Collection)
Titanic (Photo: ©20th Century Fox/Everett Collection)

This fall will mark the 20th anniversary of the theatrical debut of Titanic, James Cameron’s Oscar-winning romance, which overcame a troubled production to become one of the most profitable and popular films in history. At the helm of that ship wasn’t just Cameron, but also Paramount Pictures chairman Sherry Lansing, who’s now spilling secrets about the film’s rocky path to the big screen in a new biography. And perhaps most stunning of all is her admission that, at least initially, she wasn’t completely onboard with its signature theme song: Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”

In an excerpt from Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker published in The Hollywood Reporter (whose executive features editor, Stephen Galloway, penned the book), Lansing confesses she absolutely loved the early footage that Cameron showed her. Except for one thing. As Galloway writes, upon first hearing Dion’s closing-credits tune, Lansing was far from impressed.

“Lansing only had one reservation: about the song ‘My Heart Will Go On.’ ‘I said, ‘Jim, isn’t this a little corny?’ she recalled. ‘He said, ‘Oh, my God, Sherry! The song is fantastic.'”

In hindsight, with “My Heart Will Go On” firmly established as one of the most successful songs in movie history — complete with wins at the Oscars and Grammys — such a response might seem more than a tad stunning. Nonetheless, Lansing was hardly the only one to have early doubts about the tune. Dion herself has repeatedly stated that she didn’t like composer James Horner’s composition when she first heard it, and that it was her husband/manager, René Angélil, who persuaded her to record a demo. In a 2013 chat with British talk show host Jonathan Ross (below, via the Huffington Post), she confessed:

“I didn’t want to sing ‘My Heart Will Go On’. Thank God they didn’t listen to me. I didn’t really like the song at first. I wasn’t sure. I did another song for a movie before, it was very successful, and I thought we were pushing our luck. … And he [my husband] said, ‘OK, let’s just do a demo, let’s give it a try and we’ll see after.’ The demo is actually the real recording; I never sang the song again. Except 3 million times after that live.”

She repeated the story three years later on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon (below), during which she also admitted, “I didn’t want to record the song. I’m sorry. I’m so happy that people don’t listen to me.”

Horner, who died in a plane crash in 2015, told Empire magazine (via People) months before his untimely passing that even Cameron wasn’t immediately sold on the tune, remembering:

“[James] did not want it to be a Hollywood movie that had violins soaring away around it and a song pasted in at the end. But when you see the last scene of the movie, my job is to keep the audience in their seats and not let them off the hook. It’s my personal belief I should never let anyone put their coats on. They have to be as in it as they can be. As I started writing this eight-minute sequence, I was saying, ‘How am I going to do this? Just another orchestra reprise?’ It had to be very intimate, very emotional.”

As Horner went on to explain, he and Dion worked on the pop hit in secret, presenting it to Cameron only when they believed the time was right. And the rest is the sort of movie history that — yes, I’m going to say it — will go on and on.

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