After Céline Dion’s brother found manager René Angélil’s name on the back of French Canadian singer Ginette Reno’s record, he sent him a recording of his sister’s first original song, “Ce n’était qu’un rêve.” Hearing it prompted Angélil to invite Dion to audition for him in person – their first meeting. “While I was singing he started to cry,” Dion recalled to PEOPLE years later. “I knew then I had done a good job.” She was 12 years old – he was 38.
After hearing her vocal chops in person, Angélil knew he wanted to turn Dion into a star. And he took drastic measures to ensure it would happen: He famously mortgaged his home to fund her first record.
Angélil’s intense faith in Dion’s vocals wasn’t unfounded: That first record, La Voix du bon Dieu, became a chart-topping hit in Québec and set the singer on her path toward stardom in her home province (though she was still relatively unknown in America). In 1987, when Dion was 19 years old, she and Angélil went on their first official date, though she later admitted that the two began seeing each other beyond the manager-client relationship a year or so before.
With the help of manager Angélil, Dion made her debut in the English-speaking market with the album Unison.
Unison had a 1990 release date, but it was 1991 that truly sent Dion to international stardom, when she lent her voice to the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack, dueting with Peabo Bryson on the film’s title song. It was a big year for Dion and Angélil, too: Despite the fact their relationship was still a secret to the general public, the two became engaged.
Two years into their engagement, Dion and Angélil still hadn’t gone public with their relationship. “I was afraid of what people would think,” she told PEOPLE in 1994. But eventually, the desire to share her love for Angélil with the world triumphed: “When you’re in love, you want to scream it to the world,” she explained.
The two married on Dec. 17, in an extravagant ceremony at Montréal’s Notre-Dame Basilica.
For the couple, 1998 will likely always be remembered as the year Angélil was diagnosed with throat cancer. The news, coupled with a demanding few years career-wise, led Dion to take a hiatus to focus on her personal life and caring for her husband.
After Angélil was declared cancer-free in 2000, the couple celebrated with a vow renewal in Vegas. Of her Arabian Nights themed affair, Dion said: “It’s almost like a show, and we’re show business people.”
After undergoing fertility treatments, Dion gave birth to son René Charles, the couple’s first child, on Jan. 25.
Ending her multi-year break from music, Dion released a new album, A New Day Has Come. Soon after, she announced her residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The first leg of that residency lasted for five years, until 2007.
After enduring multiple rounds of IVF, in May 2010, Dion and Angélil announced they were expecting twins. Nelson, named for South African President Nelson Mandela, and Eddy, named for Edd Marnay, a French songwriter who produced Dion’s first five albums, arrived on Oct. 23.
Returning to her dressing room after a rehearsal for The Voice, Dion heard the worst news: Her husband had just learned his cancer was back. So in 2014, the singer put her career on hold to care for Angélil, who stepped down from his longtime post as her manager that June.
In August 2015, Dion resumed her residency as Caesars Palace. But four months into her run, René Angélil died on Jan. 14, 2016, just two days before what would have been his 74th birthday. In August, Dion spoke of her husband’s illness and preparing for his death in an interview with USA TODAY. “My biggest job is to tell my husband, we’re fine. I’ll take care of our kids. You’ll watch us from another spot,” she said. “I’ll say, ‘You’re scared? I understand. Talk to me about it’ … And René says to me, ‘I want to die in your arms.’ Okay, fine, I’ll be there, you’ll die in my arms.”