OBITUARY

The man who discovered and married Celine Dion

Celine Dion with husband Rene Angelil in a 2008 file photo.
Celine Dion with husband Rene Angelil in a 2008 file photo. PHOTO: REUTERS

MONTREAL • Celine Dion's husband Rene Angelil, who discovered the Canadian pop diva and long managed her career, died on Thursday after a struggle with cancer. He was 73.

She announced his death on Twitter: "Rene Angelil passed away this morning at his home in Las Vegas after a long and courageous battle against cancer."

The singer's spokesman said more information would be given in the coming days but, for now, the family wished to be left to mourn in private.

News of Angelil's death triggered an outpouring of sympathy from Dion's fans.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted his condolences to the couple's six children, including three from a previous marriage.

Born in Quebec to Lebanese- Syrian immigrants, Angelil started out as a dabbler in yeye - 1960s French music - before trying his hand at comedy and finally settling on a career in music management.

He signed one of the biggest names in Quebec music, Ginette Reno, but the arrangement ended abruptly in 1981, leaving Angelil destitute and desperate. At that time, another opportunity arose.

At age 12, Dion had recorded a demo tape with her mother and sent it to Angelil. He was so struck by her voice that he signed her to an exclusive management contract, mortgaging his house to finance her debut album. "I'd never heard anything like it. For me, it was the most beautiful voice in the world," he would recall in interviews.

She went on to become one of pop's best-known voices, winning five Grammys - including one for the 1997 Titanic theme song My Heart Will Go On - and collaborating with stars from Stevie Wonder to Barbra Streisand.

Angelil invested her earnings, from concerts and 220 million albums sold worldwide, in restaurants, dance clubs and golf courses.

He launched clothing lines, perfumes and other Dion-branded merchandise, building an empire of wealth for them to share.

In 1994, when she was 19 and he was 45, they wed in an extravagant ceremony that was televised live in Canada and splashed across glossy magazines. "My mother wanted to kill him," she said later.

Eventually, the couple landed in Las Vegas where Dion played nearly 1,000 shows.

Angelil was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2013. A year later, he stepped down as her manager.

In a candid interview with USA Today, she described dealing with the pending loss of "the only boyfriend I've ever had" and "the leader of the band all my life".

In a soft voice, she recalled: "I'll say, 'You're scared? I understand. Talk to me about it.'" She paused before adding: "And Rene says to me, 'I want to die in your arms'. Okay, fine, I'll be there, you'll die in my arms."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2016, with the headline 'The man who discovered and married Celine Dion'. Print Edition | Subscribe