The Québécois angel has been delighting the world with her voice since the 1980s, and many fans have been sweet on Dion since her first English album, 1990’s Unison. Since then, she’s been held up as some kind of benevolent fairy godmother in a way few other divas have ever been, with loyalists cheering for her in both joy and sadness, in particular through the loss of her husband, René Angélil, last January.
It was 20 years ago this week that Dion was celebrating her second No. 1 hit on the Billboard Top 100: “Because You Loved Me,” the ballad theme song from the Michelle Pfeiffer movie Up Close and Personal. (Dion’s first No. 1 hit in the U.S. was her 1993 cover of “The Power of Love.”) Released Feb. 20, 1996, the Diane Warren-penned song quickly rose up the charts and hit the No. 1 spot on March 23, staying firmly planted there until May 4, when it was finally displaced by Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby.”
Though Warren wrote the song as a tribute to her father, it’s hard not to hear the song today and think of Dion’s relationship to her husband, who was also her longtime manager and helped her become the international success she is today. In celebration of “Because You Loved Me”and all things Céline, we’re listing off 10 reasons we love her.
1. The story of her childhood reads like a rags-to-riches fairy tale
Dion recalls a childhood not unlike that of another beloved singer, Dolly Parton: rural and poor, but rich in familial love and music. She’d always dreamed of singing professionally, and she got to be one of those lucky people who realize their dream in the biggest possible way. It’s inspiring, but it’s also very helpful in understanding how she became the woman she is today.
“A lot of my sisters and brothers hoped to be successful singers, and I’ve seen the effort and hard work that went into their unrealized dreams,” Dion told PEOPLE. “If I’m successful, I do it for them and for me.”
2. Young Céline is just the cutest thing
As a result of being in the public life for most of her life, we have video proof of Dion’s teenage years. Most celebrities probably wouldn’t like that, but we’re guessing Dion would have no problem with us seeing her during her formative years. The above clip shows her at age 15, learning English and therefore taking her first steps toward an international pop career.
3. The love theme from Titanic – of course
It’s obvious, yes, but you can’t list off reasons why Céline Dion is great without mentioning “My Heart Will Go On.” It’s far from her only hit, but it is the song that cemented her status as an iconic singer and a part of Hollywood lore. Twenty years from now, no matter what she does professionally or personally, she’ll still be the singer of the Titanic song – and rightly so.
VIDEO: An Emotional Céline Dion Returns to the Stage
4. And her ascent to fame is also a love story
Dion was married to Angélil for 22 years, and they’d been a couple for 29 years. While there was a considerable age difference between the two – he was 26 years her senior – that disparity fell into the background after Dion and Angélil proved themselves to be a solid, loving couple.
In a 1994 interview with PEOPLE, both explain how they were reluctant to go public with the relationship because they worried about public reaction. “I was afraid of what people would think,” admits Angélil. Dion, however, was tired of the deception. “When you’re in love, you want to scream it to the world,” she said.
5. She gives great acceptance speeches
It shouldn’t surprise fans in the least that Dion’s thank-you speech upon winning Album of the Year at the 1997 Grammys was gracious and heartfelt, but she was also so clearly stoked to be honored. There’s no cool, diva-like composure here; she’s as giddy as a kid in a candy store. Dion’s album Falling Into You beat out the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack, Beck’s Odelay, Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and The Fugees’ The Score.
6. She’s even better live than she is in the studio
Her superfans can debate among themselves which is her greatest live performance, but we will humbly suggest Dion’s rendition of “The Greatest Love of All” at the November 2012 Grammy salute to Whitney Houston following the singer’s death the previous February.
7. In fact, she can make someone else’s song her own
No doubt there’s a few fans of Cyndi Lauper and Roy Orbison who have to point out that Dion wasn’t the first to sing “I Drove All Night,” but her powerful voice makes her cover the one that really sticks with you. At the very least, she knows how to pick her covers. Have sample of her takes on Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself,” Irene Cara’s “What a Feeling” and “When I Fall in Love.”
8. She’s expressive
Yes, she’s very expressive vocally, but she’s also fantastically expressive facially. In the most loving possible way, we’d like to point out that she’s fascinating to watch when she sings.
A small sampling:
9. She has a sense of humor about herself
Again, she does things other divas of her stature might not, and this includes shedding all semblance of coolness to be a giant goofball.
Another small sampling:
10. She dressed up as one of the cats from Cats to sing “Memories”
No context for this one, but none needed, really. If you ever wanted to see Céline Dion dressed up like a giant cat, this is your moment. There’s a great many divas who probably would decline to wear the whole get-up, but not Céline.
Honorable mention: She’s got famous fans, too
Shortly after Ariana Grande hosted Saturday Night Live, she shared a story about what kind of reactions she’d gotten from the various singers of whom she’s done impressions. Grande insisted she was a big fan of Dion’s, and she was elated to learn that Dion didn’t object at all to being mimicked. As Grande recalled, “When I met Céline, she told me, she was like, ‘When I saw you, I peed!'” And that’s not all: Fellow pop starlet Selena Gomez recently caught Dion’s Las Vegas show and took to Snapchat to record all the superfan feels the show gave her.
Here’s to famous up-and-comers keeping good company.