Rene Angelil, the entertainment maestro who guided Celine Dion to superstardom and then married her, has died, according to Francine Chaloult, a spokeswoman for Dion.
He was 73.
Chaloult said Angelil died Thursday morning at his home in Las Vegas. Coroner John Fudenberg said in a statement that Angelil died of throat cancer and no further investigation into his death was expected.
Angelil had been battling a recurrence of throat cancer since initially undergoing surgery for the condition in April 1999. He had to undergo another operation in December 2013.
While Dion and Angelil’s entourage insisted he was doing well, Angelil stepped back from the day-to-day management of his megastar wife’s career in June 2014. He turned it over to longtime friend Aldo Giampaolo, a noted impresario himself in Quebec, but remained involved in key decisions.
A month after that announcement, Dion said Angelil was focusing on his sons and “working really hard on his health.”
“He’s being a dad at the house, which I’m really happy about,” she told a news conference in Montreal.
By August, Dion also decided to put her career on hold, citing a “very difficult and stressful time for the couple” and inflammation in her throat muscles.
“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,” she said.
In March 2015, Dion announced she would return to the stage with a residency at the Colosseum in Las Vegas. She said at the time that Angelil had a feeding tube and that she was helping him to eat three times a day. Despite his illness, it was Angelil who encouraged her to return to the stage.
“He wants me back, he wants me strong, he wants to see me again because I’m his favourite singer,” Dion said at the Billboard Music Awards in May 2015. “So he wants me out there, and I have to say that I’m ready. It’s hard, but we’re ready.”
Dion returned to Vegas in August 2015 and said doctors weren’t able to say how long Angelil had, but that he’d already planned his funeral and told his wife he wanted to die in her arms.
“Rene says to me, ‘I want to die in your arms.’ (I say) ‘OK, fine, I’ll be there, you’ll die in my arms,”’ Dion told USA Today in an interview.
The couple, who were 26 years apart in age, married in an elaborate ceremony in 1994 at Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal that drew throngs. Former prime minister Brian Mulroney was among the guests at the ceremony where Dion wore a glittering crystal headpiece. The nuptials were compared to the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana.
Angelil and Dion have always been one of entertainment’s power couples, owning lavish homes in the United States and Canada, but the shrewd entertainment czar sprang from more humble roots.
Angelil was born in Montreal on Jan. 16, 1942, to a Syrian father and a Quebecois mother.
He grew up in the city’s north-end Villeray district. He showed signs of his future career as he put on little shows for his neighbours. One of his friends in school was Pierre Labelle, who would later go on to join Angelil as one of the popular singing Les Baronets
A gifted student, Angelil advanced quickly through school. It was while studying at Ecole Saint-Viateur that he met Jean Beaulne, who floated the idea of creating a singing group. In 1961, as Angelil, Beaulne and Labelle were approaching their 20s, they quit school to go into full-time performing.
The group enjoyed modest success in clubs before they hired Ben Kaye as their manager. That move and their translation of the Beatles’ “Hold Me Tight” caused Les Baronets to take off. Over the next several years, the group toured across Quebec but also at venues in the United States. But with the departure of Beaulne in 1968, Les Baronets started to lose traction and broke up in 1972. Angelil then teamed with friend Guy Cloutier to manage several up-and-coming Quebec artists including Rene Simard and Ginette Reno.
He later struck out on his own and in 1981 received an audio tape in the mail from Dion’s mother, who encouraged him to “listen to it carefully. It’s my 12-year-old daughter.”
Struck by the voice of the young woman, Angelil quickly took her under his wing. He reportedly mortgaged his home to finance her first album.
Success came quickly and Angelil won Quebec’s Felix Award as manager of the year in 1987 and 1988. He gave Dion an image makeover when she turned 18 and launched her first English-language album—“Unison”—in 1990, which established her as an international pop star.
World tours and megastardom followed under his guidance. Dion’s most recent album, 2013’s “Loved Me Back to Life,” topped the charts in Canada before reaching platinum certification four times over. The lush Colosseum at Caesars Palace was built specifically for Dion, where she played to sold out shows for years.
The raspy-voiced Angelil was also an avid poker player, having learned the game from his parents. He once qualified at the 2005 World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions. He also finished in the money at the 2007 Mirage Poker Showdown event on the World Poker Tour.
Dion and Angelil had three children—Rene-Charles, who was born in 2001, and twins Nelson and Eddy, who arrived in 2010. Angelil also had three children from his previous two marriages.