LAS VEGAS (AP) — Rene Angelil was a former singer-turned-manager when he received an audiotape of a 12-year-old singer from her mother.
“At that time I had been in the business for 20 years,” Angelil recalled in a 1991 interview with The Associated Press. “In those 20 years, I had never heard or had a feeling come out of someone like this little girl I had in front of me. I had shivers all over, you know.”
The singer was Celine Dion, and in time her voice would become one of the most popular in the world, recalling big-voiced singers such as Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston. Dion has said that Angelil mortgaged his house to finance her first album. He was her manager for decades, and the two married in 1994 in an elaborate ceremony at Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal.
On Thursday, the 73-year-old Angelil died after a long battle with throat cancer in the suburban Las Vegas home in Henderson he shared with Dion and their three children. He died of natural causes under the care of a doctor, Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg said. No further investigation was expected.
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Angelil was born in Montreal to a Canadian mother and Syrian father. He became the love of Dion’s life and the linchpin for her huge success, guiding her career for most of her life. He was constantly seen by her side.
Initially, Dion sang only in her native French, and while she was a huge star in her native Quebec, it didn’t translate to widespread international success. She had to learn English to gain success in the United States and other countries.
By the late 1990s and 2000s, her soaring voice had become dominant on the radio. The theme from “Titanic,” the smash “My Heart Will Go On,” has been her defining hit, and she has had other hits that have sold millions of copies around the world.
Calling Angelil an amazing showman and businessman, Caesars President Gary Selesner said it was impossible to overstate the impact he and Dion have had on the history of entertainment in Las Vegas and at Caesars Palace.
Dion’s shows on Saturday and Sunday were cancelled.
A post on her Facebook page said: “It is with deep sadness that we announce that René Angélil, aged 73, died this morning at her residence in Las Vegas after a long and courageous fight against cancer. The family wishes to live the mourning in privacy.”
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada issued a statement saying he has always appreciated the couple’s support because they took a risk on Las Vegas when Dion began her residency in 2002 at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace.
“As a result, we in Las Vegas feel Céline Dion is one of ours,” Reid said. “She has brought so much positive attention to our city. Her love affair with René and her family was something that was so admirable.”
Angelil was at the center of a high-profile extortion case in 2000. Court records indicate that he agreed to pay Yun Kyeong Kwon Sung $2 million in “hush money” after she claimed he fondled her in an elevator of the Imperial Palace hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
Angelil’s lawyer revealed the terms of the confidential settlement to a grand jury that indicted Sung and her husband on charges of extortion and bribery. Angelil acknowledged no wrongdoing and was never charged.
The Nevada Supreme Court in 2008 overturned the charges against Sung and her husband.
Angelil told the Las Vegas Sun in 2003 that he paid the money because he was worried about his wife’s welfare as they struggled to conceive and that they didn’t “need the stress.”
Dion was public about her difficulty, revealing that she underwent procedures to eventually get pregnant with her children, Rene-Charles and twins Nelson and Eddy.
Angelil also had a son and daughter from his previous two marriages.
Angelil was first diagnosed with skin cancer while they were trying to conceive their first child. After he was born, and with Angelil on the mend, Dion retreated from touring and started the residency in Las Vegas so she could be more stable.
Dion said Angelil had talked about dying and even discussed his funeral plans.
“I’ll say, ‘You’re scared? I understand. Talk to me about it.'” she told USA Today. “And René says to me, ‘I want to die in your arms.’ OK, fine, I’ll be there, you’ll die in my arms.”
Mumbi Moody reported from New York City.