Celine Dion has one of the most bonkers rags-to-riches stories in music history. However, on her journey to stardom, she kept one dark secret—one that led to the most agonizing heartbreak of her life.
When Celine Dion was born on March 30, 1968, her little house in Charlemagne, Quebec was already full. There were 13 other kids that had come before her. To pay the bills for this huge family, her father worked as a butcher while her mother stayed at home with the kids.
They named her Celine, after their favorite song by French singer Hugues Aufray. Times were tough for the Dions, so tough that they had to resort to some very strange sleeping arrangements.
Dion’s parents didn’t have a spare crib for their newborn baby Celine—or the money to pay for one. To remedy this, they did the next best thing: They let her sleep in a drawer. Once she was old enough, she got to move up in the world by sleeping in a bed. This, however, ended up being not much of a step up, as she had to share a bed with ”several” of her sisters.
Life at home may have been tough for this future diva, but it was even tougher at school.
At school, Dion was the subject of cruel ridicule for her appearance. Her teeth were fang-like and she was very skinny. It was for this reason that her classmates dubbed her “Vampire”. Dion preferred her home life where she lived with people who treated her with the respect she deserved.
Family was everything to Dion—but she also had a quality that set her apart.
Dion later said that she always dreamed of becoming a singing star. She got her first taste of performing when she was only five years old—singing at her big brother’s wedding. But that was only the beginning.
Dion was able to continue performing because of a strange thing the Dion family owned: their own piano bar. However, Dion was not about to let her talent go to waste at the family bar, she wanted the world to hear her.
By the age of 12, Dion was already prepared to write a song. The song was, of course, in French but in English, it was called “It Was Only A Dream”. This was a collaboration between Dion, her mother, and her brother Jacques.
The family recorded Dion singing the song and realized they had something special on their hands. But they had one problem: They had no idea what to do with it.
Dion’s brother, Michel, looked at the back of one of his records and noticed the name of a music manager. He thought: Why not send the recording to him? The manager was none other than René Angélil, who was a singer-turned-manager in Montreal.
When Angélil began listening to Dion's demo, he did something he would never forget.
When Angélil heard Dion’s voice on the recording, he broke down and cried. Once he’d wiped the tears away, there was no doubt in his mind: This girl could be a big star. He contacted the Dion family and offered to help Dion begin a career.
He wanted her to make a record, but that would cost a pretty penny—money that the Dion family simply didn't have. That’s when Angélil decided to risk everything he had on young Celine Dion.
Unfortunately, Angélil didn’t have the money to get Dion’s voice on a record...He did, however, have a house. Angélil was so sure of Dion’s star power, that he made a drastic decision, and mortgaged his house to pay for a recording.
The result was La voix du bon Dieu, which in English means "The Good Lord’s Voice". The album was a huge success in the province of Quebec, making the 13-year-old Dion an instant star in her home province.
It was time, however, for Dion to go international.
Of course, Dion and Angélil were not satisfied with being popular in Quebec alone. In 1982, Dion and Angelil went to Tokyo, Japan for the Yamaha World Popular Song Festival. So what chance did little Celine Dion have in an international competition of much more experienced singers? I would say not a lot.
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By the end of the festival, Dion’s song had received a Gold Medal for Best Song—but that wasn’t all. The festival had more in store for the young star.
They voted her the Top Performer of the entire festival. Following this success, Dion received another honor: She was the first Canadian singer to have a gold record in France. Dion was quickly dominating the French Music scene—but she still wanted more.
At age 18, Dion heard Michael Jackson sing and had a startling revelation: She wanted to be as big of a star as he was. She mentioned this to her manager, and he agreed she could be—but there were two important things she needed to do.
Firstly, she needed to learn to speak English. Her second task, however, was undoubtedly more painful.
Angélil realized that if Dion wanted to be a big star, she had to look like a big star. He took one look at her teeth and knew she needed an upgrade. Dion went in for dental surgery and after her transformation, no one would ever call her “Vampire” again.
But while Celine Dion practiced English and attended dance lessons, there was a dramatic shift in her relationship with René Angélil.
During this time, Angélil’s second marriage came to an end. He decided to go to Las Vegas without Dion. Dion felt a profound loss when Angélil left, as he’d been with her almost constantly. Dion couldn’t quite make sense of why she felt so lost without her manager by her side. It was then she had an astonishing realization.
Dion missed her manager a lot, and it led her to believe something that she had trouble accepting—that she is in love with him. At this point, Dion was just 18 years old and Angélil was 44. Surely this was just a crush that would go away with time.
While he was gone, however, Dion kept a picture of Angélil hidden under her pillow. She didn’t want her mother to discover her forbidden feelings—but she couldn't keep the truth buried forever.
Once Celine Dion’s mother figured out that her teenage daughter had a crush on a 44-year-old, twice-divorced man, she was understandably resistant to the idea.
But Dion wasn't about to let her mother tell her who she could or could not love. She reminded her mom that they lived in a free country, and that was final. Once Dion had dealt with her mother, she had to know how Angélil really felt about her.
Dion eagerly awaited Angélil’s return from Las Vegas and was likely curious about how it would be to see him now that she knew how she felt. When Angélil returned, however, Dion noticed he was acting weird.
It seemed that he never wanted to be alone with her. This bizarre behavior devastated Dion. She finally knew that she loved him, and he was acting like he didn't care at all. This wasn’t, however, the truth: not at all.
It turned out that Angélil was avoiding Dion for a shocking reason: He also had romantic feelings for his number one star. The age difference was huge, he’d known her since she was a girl, and he was also a good friend of the Dion family. What could he do with these feelings but ignore them?
Avoiding being alone with Dion was his only way to stop something from happening between them. At some point, however, Angélil decided he couldn't ignore his feelings any longer.
It’s not exactly clear when Dion and Angélil decided to act on their love for each other, but according to Dion, they went on their first date when she was 19. And from there on out, there was no slowing down.
In 1988, they spent the night together after Dion won the Eurovision Song Contest. Although her close friends and family knew about the controversial relationship, they decided to keep it a secret.
For Dion’s first English language album Unison, CBS Records fronted $25,000 to make it. However, it seemed like a small amount to transform Dion into an English singing sensation. When CBS executives heard Dion do a fabulous duet with pop singer Dan Hill, they decided that she was worth much more: something closer to $100,000.
This, however, was only the beginning.
Another live performance by Dion caused CBS Records to raise the amount they would spend on the album again. They were willing to part with $300,000. However, when producer David Foster saw a video of Dion performing, he told the record company that they couldn’t put a price on Dion. The sky was the limit.
In the end, the record cost CBS Records $600,000. Now, what would listeners and critics think of Dion singing in English?
The album Unison was a huge hit in Canada where it went seven-times Platinum. The US wasn’t quite as enthusiastic and reviewers were cautious with their praise. Entertainment Weekly called her voice “tastefully unadorned”. Allmusic said the album was a “fine sophisticated American debut”.
Dion wanted to be Michael Jackson, so this was not the reception she wanted. What she wanted was to be an international superstar. She’d get there eventually—but in the most surprising way.
In 1991, Disney was making an animated version of Beauty and the Beast. They wanted a pop version of one of the songs to play over the ending credits. Disney paired Dion up with the king of the ballads Peabo Bryson. The two hit gold with the song “Beauty and the Beast”.
It appeared on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary charts. All of this was great, but Dion was holding out for something more. And it was coming her way.
While all the awards she’d received in Canada meant something to her, Dion craved US recognition. When Grammy time came around, Dion was likely on the edge of her seat. “Beauty and the Beast” had been incredibly popular, but was it Grammy-worthy?
The people at the awards show thought so, and she and Bryson shared the honor for a rather long-winded award: Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
Dion was now what she wanted to be: an international superstar. So, what would her old fans think of her new style?
Celine Dion’s fans in her home country were ecstatic about her fame in the US, but there was one group not joining in with the applause: the French.
French Canadians were watching the favorite singer soar to new heights, but she seemed to be forgetting where she came from. In short, they felt neglected and they devised the perfect punishment for the one who had forgotten them.
The Felix Awards honors singers and comedians in the Canadian province of Quebec. Dion had already won a handful of these awards, but in 1991 something changed. Yes, Dion won a Felix that night, but the award was for “English Artist of the Year”. The award outraged Dion, and she refused to accept it.
She stated that she was a French artist, not an English one. Of course, this wasn't the only thing likely to turn her fans against her. What would they do when they found out the truth about her relationship with René Angélil?
Somehow, no one in the media had discovered the truth about Dion and Angélil’s relationship. None of the family had made a slip-up—no one except Dion herself.
In 1992, Dion had an interview with Canadian journalist Lise Payette. Payette asked Dion what she thought was an innocent question about knowing when a man loves a woman for herself and not her career. Dion teared up and said something she would later regret.
The interviewer’s question made Dion get emotional, and she told Payette that she had already found a man who loved her. She then added, "It's a secret I cannot wait to deliver". Payette was likely confused by Dion’s response. However, in the control room, René Angélil sat watching with tears rolling down his face.
The truth was about to come out.
It wasn’t clear what Dion and Angélil were waiting for as far as announcing their relationship. For some reason, 25 was the lucky number. On her 25th birthday, Dion and Angelil became officially engaged—maybe because at 25 it seemed less inappropriate. She also announced her love for Angélil in the liner notes of her album The Colour of My Love.
The couple had finally exposed themselves to the world—now it was time for the repercussions.
Fans didn’t seem to care about the huge age difference between Dion and Angélil. In fact, they completely supported the newly out couple. When they had their wedding, a Canadian TV network even broadcast the event live.
Years later, however, one comedian—Katherine Ryan—compared Angélil to singer R Kelly who lost his career—and freedom—for his “relationships” with underage women. But wait, there’s another link between Dion and R Kelly.
In 1998, Dion actually did a recording with Kelly. The song was “I’m Your Angel” and it appeared on Dion’s These are Special Times album. After Lady Gaga canceled her own song with Kelly—"Do What U Want”—in 2019, Dion did the same. Like Gaga, Dion removed it from all streaming services.
In the meantime, Dion’s career was soaring. In 1996, the World Music Awards named her the World’s Best-Selling Female Recording Artist of the year. Where could she go from here? Apparently, a lot higher.
In 1997, Dion released the album Let’s Talk About Love, but the critics couldn’t quite agree on the quality of the album. Some loved it, and others felt something a little less than love. Hidden in the grooves of the record was a song that would certainly change Dion’s life forever.
The song was “My Heart Will Go On” and it certainly did go on. It went on to be nothing short of a piece of history. But it almost didn’t happen.
As everyone knows, “My Heart Will Go On” would go on to become the Academy Award-winning song for the 1997 blockbuster film Titanic. But this song almost didn't make the cut.
When director James Cameron was making the film, he was only sure about one thing: He did not want a cheesy song for his movie. The composer, however, had a different idea. James Horner went behind Cameron’s back and approached Dion to perform a song. Dion’s response, however, was as cold as an iceberg.
When Dion heard Horner sing “My Heart Will Go On," she was not very impressed. She didn’t like the song and didn’t want to make another song for a movie. She was going to give Horner a hard no, but then Angélil convinced her to do it. Dion relented, stepped into the booth, and recorded the song in just one take.
Now, all Horner had to do was share the song with the often hot-tempered Cameron. Cameron would either hit the ceiling in anger—or love the song.
When Cameron heard a demo recording of Dion singing “My Heart Will Go On," he knew that it was right for the film. He immediately wanted to know the name of the singer. Strangely, Cameron didn’t really know who Celine Dion was—even though they were both from Canada.
Cameron was so taken by the demo recording, that they didn’t change a thing. What you hear in the film is Dion’s first recording of it.
Dion was riding high, but fate had an awful twist in store for her.
In 2000, Dion got some horrible news. Her husband had esophageal cancer. This stressful scare was exactly what Dion had to hear in order to slow down her life. She took a hiatus from performing and decided to focus on caring for Angélil. But though she tried to stay out of the spotlight, it had a habit of finding her.
The National Enquirer is not a publication known for sticking to the truth. In 2000, when Dion was caring for her ill husband, they printed that she was having twins. Dion lost her marbles and went after the tabloid with a vengeance. She sued them for upwards of $20 million.
The paper had to apologize and retract the headline in a subsequent edition. Dion got the last laugh a few years later when she actually got pregnant and had a son. As it turned out, The National Enquirer wasn’t wrong. They were just early.
Having kids wasn’t easy for Dion and Angélil. In fact, they had to use a fertility clinic to have their son René-Charles Angélil in 2001. After suffering the tragedy of a miscarriage in 2009, the two were back at the clinic for more.
In spring 2010, Dion made an announcement: She was pregnant with twins. Eddy and Nelson came into the world one minute apart on October 23. Dion had the family she'd always longed for. Now, it was time to get back to work.
Following her three-year hiatus, Dion released a few albums that really only ignited her most devout fans. Critics, on the other hand, were calling her music banal and without surprises. Dion saw the writing on the wall and decided she needed to do something different.
Enter Las Vegas and A New Day... at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. This show was a colossal hit and Dion had found a new vision. Forget making albums, this was much more fun.
A New Day... was so much fun—and profitable—that Dion decided to do another residency in Las Vegas. This show was to have the simple title, Celine. While doing this show she also found time to sing at the Oscars, do a free concert in Central Park, and release Celine Dion Parfums. She was riding high and raking in the dough.
Something, however, was about to put a stop to all this activity.
As it turned out, Angélil was still fighting against cancer. Dion wanted to be there for him as he had surgery to remove a tumor in December 2013. In August 2015, Dion returned to Vegas and resumed her show. But it was a short-lived return.
By January 2016, Dion had to cancel everything. Things weren't looking good—and it was much worse than she could have ever imagined.
It wasn’t that big of a surprise when René Angélil lost his battle with cancer. But this was just the beginning of Celine Dion’s most agonizing year.
You see, her brother also passed just two days after Angélil. Dion took time to mourn the loss of these two important men in her life and then returned to the Las Vegas stage in February—just six weeks later.
Her fans were on the edge of their seats. Dion had been with the same man since she was 12. What would she be like as a single woman?
Following Angélil’s passing, Dion kept herself incredibly busy. She released French albums, did a song for Deadpool 2, and embarked on a world tour. She also found time to become a fashion icon...and it all started with a hoodie.
In 2016, Dion arrived at Paris Couture Week wearing something that critics could have seen as complete cheese: a hoodie with an image from the film Titanic on it. But instead of getting a thumbs down, she got noticed in a big way.
Yes, wearing a hoodie with an image of the film that made your career might look a little like self-promotion. But Dion paired the simple hoodie with skinny jeans and some Gucci sandals.
Fashion analysts loved it, and it soon became clear that Dion was not doing this on her own—apparently, she’d hired stylist Law Roach.
Since Dion had met her future husband when she was 12, many were curious about what Dion would do as a single woman at 50. Well, just as she was stepping into the world of high fashion, she seemed to have something else on her arm instead of a designer bag—a new man.
Dion’s “plus one” was thirty-something Spanish backup dancer Pepe Muñoz. Dion, however, wasn’t about to get tied down to just one guy. She said she had “A” man in her life—not “THE” man.
The press didn’t care. They saw Muñoz constantly at her side and made up their minds—they were a couple.
Celine Dion has grown to be an expert at dealing with the press. She’s often very direct with what she says, and if you cross her, she’s likely to sue you. She didn’t like that the media reported that she’d gotten over Angélil so quickly and found a new man. She then set the record straight by saying that Muñoz wasn’t straight.
“Pepe is gay,” she told Extra. She went on to say that they were best friends, and he’d helped her throughout her grieving process. However, in 2019, the gossip mill churned out a disturbing rumor about Dion and Muñoz.
Tabloids began to surmise that Dion was under the control of Muñoz, her hairdresser and stylist. A source at the time said, "Pepe is like her boy toy who is really trying to take over. He’s isolating her and people are feeling it". This is, however, quite likely another tabloid untruth.
Despite the hardship in her life, Dion seemed to be bouncing back with grace and style. What could possibly go wrong?
Sadly, fate had another tragedy in store for Celine Dion. Out of the blue, she canceled tour dates in January 2022. Tour organizers told the fans that Dion couldn’t perform because of “severe and persistent muscle spasms”.
No one seemed to really know what that meant until Dion made a heartbreaking announcement.
To explain her canceled tour dates, Dion had to tell the truth. It turned out she has something called stiff-person syndrome. This is a disease that is very rare and causes spasms in sufferers. It’s unclear how Dion will move forward after this announcement. Sadly, there is some doubt as to whether she will ever perform again.
On New Year’s Day 2023, Rolling Stone magazine came out with a list of the top 200 singers of all time. Of course, Dion’s fans were eagerly waiting to see where their favorite diva would be on the list. Where would she stand in comparison to Whitney Houston or Maria Carey?
As it turned out, Rolling Stone had omitted Dion from the list altogether. Not surprisingly, her fans went ballistic. They soon turned up at the New York City offices of Rolling Stone magazine and made a small but impassioned protest.
With fans as devoted as this, I’d guess that Dion will be able to weather the storm of whatever crisis comes her way next.
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