Her heart will go on
Ahead of her first Australian tour in a decade, Céline Dion reveals how her children, the crowds at her shows and, yes, some new clothes, helped her come to grips with the loss of her husband
Ahead of her first Australian tour in 10 years, singing superstar Céline Dion talks exclusively to Stellar about dealing with grief on the world stage after losing her husband – and how her children, her fans, and even fashion, helped her to cope.
Two years after his passing, Céline Dion still holds her late husband René Angélil’s hand each night. It’s actually a replica of his hand, cast in bronze, that sits backstage at every concert she plays. “I shake my husband’s hand and knock on wood with him every night before every show,” she tells Stellar in an exclusive interview from her home in Las Vegas. “Even after he’s gone, I still talk to him.”
His chair also still sits vacant at the back of the sound desk; a nod to the position he’d take at every Dion concert, making sure everything went to plan. One thing they never planned for was Angélil’s throat cancer, the disease that would take his life in January 2016, just two days before his 74th birthday.
After he was first diagnosed in 1999, Dion put her career on hold to look after her husband as he recovered from treatment, changing his feeding tube three times a day. Their son René-charles was born in 2001, with the always candid Dion happy to publicly acknowledge using fertility treatments because she had trouble conceiving.
Keen to reduce her gruelling touring schedule to focus on her husband’s health and raising her son, Dion started a three-year, 600-show residency in Las Vegas in 2003. It ended up running for a fourth year and grossed more than $485 million, the most successful residency in US history. After she miscarried in 2009, Dion gave birth to twin sons the following year – again using IVF – named Eddy (after Eddy Marnay, who produced her first five records) and Nelson (for Nelson Mandela). With her husband in remission, Dion then returned to Vegas in 2011 for another three-year stint.
Vegas was once dismissed as a career graveyard, but Dion’s stratospheric success there inspired a string of artists – from Britney Spears to Jennifer Lopez and now Lady Gaga – to mount lucrative and credible residencies along its strip. The residency was one of Angélil’s many career masterstrokes; Las Vegas was a special place for the pair, who renewed their vows there in 2000.
But in the middle of her second run, in 2013, Angélil’s throat cancer returned and he was forced to step down from full-time management. Even during what Dion called his “heavy suffering” he encouraged his wife to go back to work. She would return to performing only weeks after his death, breaking down in tears while singing ‘All By Myself’.
“My husband wanted me to go back onstage before he passed, that’s what he wanted the most,” Dion says. “So I went back onstage while he was still alive; he wanted to make sure I could keep going. So I did prove to him yes, I could keep going. I told him I’ve got the kids and that he’s got to trust me, he’s got to relax.
“He taught me so much. He did a great job; what he had been giving to me all his life and all my life will always be with me. He gave me his all. He mortgaged his house to pay for my first album. I guess before he left he wanted to make sure I was fine. I’m trying to prove to him every day I’m fine. Our kids are growing, we feel strong. We’re good.”
Dion’s new motto is summed up in a song her husband loved that is now a cornerstone of her live shows: Queen’s triumphant ‘The Show Must Go On’. Their marriage, and professional partnership, remain one of the major success stories of modern music. Dion has sold more than 200 million albums and is the most successful Canadian artist of all time with a net worth estimated at around $500 million.
Her career began when Dion’s brother (she’s the youngest of 14 children) sent Angélil (a one-time vocalist turned talent manager) a tape of a 12-year-old Dion singing. In 1981, he indeed mortgaged his house on a mission to make the young Canadian a star – her first album topped the charts in her native Québec. By age 18, Dion wanted Michael Jackson-style global fame; Angélil, now her manager, suggested a dental makeover and some English lessons.
Her international breakthrough came in 1991 on a duet with Peabo Bryson on ‘Beauty And The Beast’, from the hit animated film. A year later Angélil (who had two former wives and three children) and Dion started a personal relationship – with a 26 year age gap – and their 1994 marriage was broadcast on Canadian TV.
Angélil’s funeral was held in the same Montreal church as their wedding, and was also broadcast on TV and livestreamed. A stoic Dion sat by the open casket as hundreds