“She’s doing great,” says Dr. Zev Rosenwaks, the Manhattan fertility specialist who successfully completed Celine Dion’s in vitro fertilization in May. Now nearly five months pregnant, Dion is healthy, gaining weight and supremely happy, says Rosenwaks. And a recent ultrasound confirms that “the baby is growing beautifully.”
The silky-throated pop diva spent the summer and early fall at her home near Montreal, where her pregnancy is monitored by a local obstetrician. But Rosenwaks, 54, says he speaks to her often and expects her to go to term, delivering a single baby—not multiples as had initially seemed possible—in mid-February. “Once an IVF pregnancy is established,” he points out, “it’s a natural pregnancy and proceeds as every other pregnancy.”
Dion, 32, and her husband-manager, René Angélil, 58, have yet to decide if the blessed event will take place in Montreal or in Jupiter, Fla., where they usually winter at their 10-bedroom estate. The couple reportedly spent much of the summer planning a $20 million renovation of the $8 million Gagnon Island mansion they bought recently, near their current home in Rosemere, Que. The refurbished house will include—surprise!—a nursery next to the master bedroom. In August, Dion attended the Montreal wedding of Angélil’s daughter Anne-Marie, 23, from a previous marriage. Dion has hardly indulged her passion for golf with Angélil—whose metastatic skin cancer, first diagnosed in 1999, remains in remission. Mostly, says Rosenwaks, the pop queen is “just enjoying the moment and, in essence, paying attention to her pregnancy.” She has been learning Spanish, devouring baby books, humming lullabies, making endless lists of possible baby names and awaiting publication of her autobiography, Celine Dion: My Story, My Dream, due this month from HarperCollins.
Much of her rags-to-riches story is well-known: how the youngest of 14 children born to poor, music-loving parents in the small, French-speaking town of Charlemagne, Que., began her music career in 1980 at the age of 12. That she placed her future and her trust in the hands of manager René Angélil, 26 years her senior, and became a star. That she is one of the best-selling female singers in history, that she has earned five Grammies. And how, along the way, Dion and Angélil finally yielded to the growing knowledge that their relationship was more than that of manager and star. But in her new book, Dion reveals for the first time some of the most intimate details of her climb to the top. Here, in this exclusive excerpt, she tells the real story of her passion for Angélil, his courageous battle against cancer and their deep desire to have a child.
The first time I met the man who would ultimately occupy such an important place in my career, life and heart, René Angélil was standing behind his desk in Hi his office in Quebec City. He was extremely polite—”a gentleman” as my mother put it—but he wasn’t smiling. He asked us to sit down, but he remained standing. He seemed to address my mother more than me. He said he’d heard my demos and thought my voice was very beautiful. Suddenly, I felt intimidated. Finally, he sat down and asked me if I wanted to sing for him—right there, without music. My mother, too, was looking at me. There was a silence that lasted for a century. Then Maman said, “She’s really not used to doing it, like that, without a mike.”
René handed me an enormous pen and said in a very gentle voice: “Let’s say that’s your mike, okay?”
He still wasn’t smiling, but his voice had a soothing sweetness, very warm, very calming.
I stood up and put myself in front of the office door, to get as much space in front of me as possible. My mother had to turn around to see me. I brought the pen to my lips and began singing:
To a magic garden I did stray
And woke up one enchanted day.
When I finished, it was my turn to wait through a century of silence. René wiped his eyes. Then, as if we hadn’t seen anything, he said, “You made me cry.” I still didn’t really know him, but I felt that that said everything.
From then on, René was part of the family. My sisters and mother thought he was really handsome. He was always very elegant. And he had a mysterious, exotic side to him, like a quiet seducer, sure of himself. In the beginning, when he came to the house, he talked for hours about everything and nothing, except what counted for me. Then, before leaving, always discreetly, he would get serious. The first time, he had his coat on when he said to my parents, “If you put your faith in me, I can guarantee that your daughter will be an important star in Quebec and France within five years.”
Ultimately, it took only two years for Dion’s romantic brand of pop—which she sang in her native French—to win her acclaim in Quebec and France. But even as her star was rising, the teenage singer yearned for something she couldn’t have.
For the first time in my life, I was hiding something from René. I must have told him at least a hundred times that he was dear to my heart, but I never dared tell him that I dreamed of him every night: He would come to my bed to take me away to a desert island where we made love. I never told him about the torrid movies that he was starring in more and more often.
I’d found—where, I don’t know—a photo of him that I gazed at a thousand times a day and that I covered with kisses at night, in my bed. I rubbed it against my cheek. It slipped onto my neck like a kiss and slid onto my shoulders. Before I fell asleep, I slid it under the pillow, out of fear that my mother, who shared a room with me, would find it.
One morning I woke up with the photo of my love right in view on the pillow, next to my head. My mother had already gotten up, washed, dressed and even pulled open the curtains. She must have seen it. I was scared stiff that she’d talk to René and tell him that I was fixated on him and that he’d better be careful if he didn’t want any trouble from her.
But if she did see that precious photo, she never said anything about it. She must have figured that I was bound to get over it, that sooner or later I’d meet a boy of my age, fall in love and get married.
Meanwhile, I continued to go to sleep with René’s photo against my cheek, against my neck. I wore out several of them. Some days I felt horribly alone. I was locked up in this love about which I couldn’t speak.
And I knew very well that I wouldn’t get over it. I had become a woman, I’d be 18 soon, and I wanted René to take me in his arms, to kiss me and make love to me. “But maybe he doesn’t see any of it,” I told myself. “Maybe he simply isn’t interested in me.”
I tried to understand why I loved him so. I thought he was handsome. I loved his soft eyes, his gestures, his voice, the color of his skin, his hands, his cologne, the quiet strength that came from him, his calmness, the authority that he exercised over everyone, even my parents, even over the executives at the record companies. I loved his passion for gambling, and his laugh, and his ways of analyzing situations, of making decisions—above all, of course, the way he looked at me, the confidence he gave me, and his hopes for my future.
I had a surge of hope when the gossip magazines said that his wife Anne-Renée had asked for a divorce, which René had granted. But I quickly realized that he was devastated by what he considered an irreparable failure on his part. “He still loves her,” I told myself. “She can still cause him pain.”
I would have so much loved to be able to make him feel the pain of love. To be able to console him. To hear him say that he loved me, that he was suffering because of me.
Angélil tried to keep his distance from his infatuated client, hut as her French-language hits made her the object of international fascination, rumors about their relationship began to filter into Canadian tabloids.
René had a lot of experience, but at the time he acted like a scared adolescent, a hundred times more intimidated than he would have been in front of a woman of his age. He was afraid of what people would say, afraid to hurt me, afraid that when I was 30 I’d find myself with a man of 56.
But I knew I had him. And I bided my time. Finally it came.
It was in Dublin, on that unforgettable day of April 30, 1988, the evening of the Eurovision competition in which, though French-Canadian, I was there to represent the Swiss! With a song written by an Italian and a Turk.
In the end, I won by just one point. As I went to get my prize, I dissolved into tears. I made my thank-yous more or less coherently and left the stage almost at a run. When I found René, I threw myself into his arms and, still crying, hugged him very hard and kissed him on the neck. I was at the height of happiness.
He let it happen. He was laughing.
Later that night, I was seated at the head of the bed, legs folded under the covers. I was happy about being alone with the man I loved. And I had a very precise plan.
I realized that he’d stopped talking, that we were enveloped by silence. He stayed there, sitting on the arm of the chair, very near my bed, without saying a word. I looked at him with my mature woman’s smile. I think that at that moment he realized that I hadn’t been listening to him for a while and that I was thinking of other things. He lowered his eyes. I could feel that I’d affected him. Directly in his heart. He got up, he backed toward the door two or three steps, as if to escape my hold over him, and said goodnight.
I couldn’t let it go like that.
He’d already opened the door. I got off the bed and went up to him, I pressed against him. “You haven’t kissed me, René Angélil.”
I took his head in my hands and I kissed him on the lips. I hung from his neck. He held me tight, the door still opened behind him. Then he pulled apart my arms. He fled to his room. I stayed there for a moment all alone, my heart beating, trembling, flabbergasted.
I knew that I’d won. That flight was an admission of it.
I grabbed the telephone and called his room to tell him: “If you don’t come back here immediately, I’m going to go knock on your door.”
But there was no answer.
It was he who called me several minutes later from the lobby of the hotel.
To ask if I was all right. And then he told me: “If you really want to, I’ll be the first.”
And I answered him: “You’ll be the first. And the only.”
Although they spent the winter of 1988 living together in Los Angeles while Dion planned her assault on the U.S. market, Angélil urged her to keep their romance a secret.
When journalists asked me if I was in love, I kept answering that I didn’t have the time nor place in my heart, life or career for a man. These repeated lies, which I lived day by day, sometimes caused me a lot of pain. I was confused and torn.
My greatest dream was for the whole world to know that René and I loved each other, that we made love together, that we wanted to have children someday, that we were going to spend our lives together. But René said no.
“It’s too soon,” he said. “Just wait.”
By the spring of 1992, Dion could no longer restrain herself.
I made a jaunt to Montreal two or three days after the Oscars. And for the first time, I admitted to a journalist from La Presse that I had a man in my life with whom I was madly in love. However, I said I didn’t want to reveal his name.
“Is it who I think it is?” she asked. “Do I know him?” I contented myself with laughing. This half-admission was an enormous relief for me. From now on, at least, people would know that I was marked by love and didn’t just sing about it. I lived it and did it too.
On a promotional tour with Dion later that year, Angélil suffered a mild heart attack but recovered quickly. Dion’s first English-language album, Unison, released in 1990, had sold more than 1 million copies. Her next album, 1992’s Celine Dion, included “Beauty and the Beast,” a duet with Peabo Bryson and the title song for the Disney movie, which earned her a Grammy. Dion and Angélil made plans to marry in Montreal in 1994.
Our wedding was spectacular—like nothing ever before seen in Quebec. A very elegant, romantic dream.
Thousands were massed along the convoy of limousines leaving the hotel to go to the church of Notre Dame; they were accompanied by a police escort on motorcycles. A blue carpet bearing our enlaced initials ran up the street and across the church square and the nave up to the altar where René was waiting for me surrounded by his best men. I entered on my father’s arm, my eight sisters carrying my train. It was magnificent, brilliant, and moving.
And I thought, to the sound of the great organ—as I moved toward the altar where I would be married—of the path I’d taken since that love had been born. I’d always known that I’d keep going to the very end, for better or for worse.
When the guests entered the banquet hall, bouquets of flowers fell slowly from a starry heaven to gently rest at the center of each table. My 13 brothers and sisters surrounded me and sang, “Qu’elle est belle, la vie” (How Beautiful Life Is).
In Quebec, my wedding was talked about a lot—and in every tone of voice. Certain people said I put too much into it, that I was making a display of my wealth, and that it seemed like a vulgar marketing event.
But I’d been a little girl from Charlemagne. I’d come a long way and gone far, carried by my voice, by the love of my family, René and the Quebecois public. To show it and share it with others isn’t marketing, it’s gratitude.
Dion’s next album, Falling into You, sold more than 10 million copies in 1996, but even that was dwarfed by the success of “My Heart Will Go On,” the love theme from Titanic. But three years later, in the midst of a concert tour, Angélil made a discovery that threatened to blow their world to pieces.
On the plane between Minneapolis and Dallas, I noticed that René kept touching his neck with his hand. I’d noticed that he seemed preoccupied all day, and I asked him what was the matter.
“Let me see.”
My hand grazed his neck. I felt a mass on the right side, in the hollow under his ear. It felt hard and fat, like an egg.
“How long have you had that?”
“It’s nothing,” he told me. “It’ll go away.”
I was furious with him
“Why haven’t you seen a doctor?”
“I haven’t had the time. It just came in the last few hours.”
“Does it hurt?”
“No, not at all.”
Immediately I thought it was serious. During the whole trip, I tried not to think the worst, but it was impossible. I still felt the nasty sensation of that hard little mass under my fingers.
In March 1999, Angélil saw a doctor in Dallas, who kept him in the hospital for tests.
Suddenly everything seemed frightening and terrible. I was on the way back to Dallas a little after midnight and went directly to the hospital. As I pushed open the door to the room, I noticed in the darkness two beds very close to each other. René was in one, and his friend Pierre Lacroix was in the other. René was sleeping. Pierre got up and led me into the corridor. He reassured me, told me to go to sleep, then he gave me a moment with René. I didn’t want to wake him because he seemed so peaceful. I could see the bandage on his neck, where they’d done the biopsy.
My night was short and troubled. Around 9, I woke up to find Pierre’s wife, Coco, sitting on my bed, bending toward me. She had taken my face between her two hands and was looking me straight in the eyes.
“Celine, my darling, your husband needs you.”
A half hour later, I was at the hospital. René was sitting on his bed and was trembling. Pierre was near him.
“I have cancer, Celine. The doctor told me. I’ve got cancer.”
Pierre, Coco, and I gathered around him. We spoke to him as if to a child. We stayed like that for a very long time, all three of us with our arms around each other. The date was March 30, 1999, the day of my 31st birthday.
René didn’t cry, except when I came toward him and took him in my arms.
“Our happiness has been destroyed,” he told me.
I decided not to cry. The man I loved needed me too much. I couldn’t crumble. I had to be strong. I had to be his strength, his health, and his healing. That’s what I told myself right away.
Nurses came to get René. We were all around him, the whole tribe, a dozen people, and we followed him into the corridor right to the operating table.
We came back to Dr. Steckler’s office in silence. He would call us two or three times from the operating room to tell us that all was going well. After the operation, he told me he was certain he’d removed all the cancer. And that it was necessary to have faith and to look to the brighter side of things.
“René’s recovery has just begun.”
Weathering a harsh but ultimately effective program of radiation and chemotherapy, Angélil regained his health. After performing a climactic New Year’s Eve show to welcome the new millennium, Dion began a sabbatical away from the stage, focusing her energy on getting pregnant.
In May, I met in New York with Doctor Zev Rosenwaks, a renowned fertility specialist. He suggested that we try a new fertility method. The idea is to isolate a single spermatozoa and inject it in the ovule with an extremely small needle. They then proceed to place the embryo in the uterus. “This method calls for a lot of patience and courage,” the doctor told me, as if he were about to give me a long speech on the hard times I was about to go through.
I stopped him and said, “My mother already had 13 children when she became pregnant with me. And I know her enough to tell you for certain that she had all the patience and courage she could need.”
“You have to know that we cannot be sure of this method’s success,” he went on. “The success rate for in vitro fertilization, whatever the method, is still only 25 percent.”
“As far as I know, doctor, even the old natural way is never 100 percent sure.”
“Fair enough,” he said. “But what I’m offering you is a bit less agreeable.”
Indeed, Dion had to inject herself daily with estrogen-suppressing drugs and submit to a battery of invasive and sometimes painful procedures.
On the morning of June 8, Dr. Ronald Ackerman unexpectedly dropped by my house in Jupiter, Florida. He had just arrived when Alain, my sister Linda’s husband, came to tell me that Dr. Rosenwaks was on the phone. This morning, strangely, he did not ask about my health. He simply asked what I was doing.
“Toast, pâté tea.”
“What about René?”
“I think he’s in his office.”
“Better get René. I want to talk to both of you together. I want you to be in the same room.”
I called René on the intercom. I had a really hard time trying not to sound nervous and excited. When René arrived in the kitchen, I was trying to look very calm. He did not have a clue either. He didn’t even know who was on the phone.
“Are you there, René?”
“You there, Ronald?”
And when we were all together, Zev and Ronald told us,
I immediately saw my love’s eyes fill with water. He came close to me and took me in his arms.
“You’re pregnant, Celine,” Zev and Ronald kept saying.
“Congratulations to the both of you,” added René
We spent the rest of the day on the telephone. We called my parents, then René’s children and our friends in Montreal, New York, Paris, Los Angeles, to tell them the good news. I believe you should never hide your happiness. It lights up and cheers the world. To keep it only for yourself is to lose it.
That day I felt a great strength and peace coming over us. Definitely, it came from somewhere else. But I knew that René was the one who had summoned that strength and peace to us.
When he fell ill, he had to fight it. He couldn’t just give up and let our happiness die. Instead of giving up, he chose to fight with all his strength. He had to, because of his love for life, his love for me, and for his children and his friends.
And now that the life he had so valiantly defended was struggling and growing in me, it would be the proof that you have to believe in happiness, the proof that love exists as long as you believe in it.
Two weeks later, we heard our child’s heartbeat, a small and rapid sound.
“One hundred forty-two beats a minute. That’s very good,” said one of the doctors.
Then he made a quick count and announced to us that I was going to give birth on February 14, 2001.
We knew that all of it was still tenuous, that we needed patience, passion, joy, strength and a lot of luck as well. But we also knew that whatever happened, life had already triumphed.