René Angélil, CM, OQ (French pronunciation: [ʁəˈne ɑ̃ʒeˈlil]; 16 January 1942 – 14 January 2016) was a Canadian musical producer, talent manager and singer. He was the manager (1981–2014) and husband (1994–2016; his death) of singer Celine Dion.
Angélil was born in Montreal, Québec, Canada, of a father of Syrian descent and a Canadian mother of Lebanese origin. His father, Joseph Angélil, was born in Montreal to parents from Damascus, Syria, and his mother, Alice Sara, was born in Montreal to Lebanese parents. Both of his parents were members of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Angélil studied at College Saint-Viateur (high school), in Outremont and at College André-Grasset (post secondary), in Montreal.
Angélil started out in 1961 as a pop singer in Montréal. He formed a pop rock group, “Les Baronets”, with childhood friends Pierre Labelle and Jean Beaulne. Les Baronets had some hits during the 1960s, mostly translations of English-language pop hits from the United Kingdom or the United States, such as “C’est fou, mais c’est tout” in 1964 (a translation of The Beatles’ song “Hold Me Tight”). After the dissolution of the group in 1972, Angélil and best friend Guy Cloutier began managing artists.
Together they managed the career of two successful Québec entertainers René Simard and Ginette Reno, among many other pop stars at the time. They parted ways in 1981 to each become solo managers. In 1981 (not long after being terminated as Ginette’s manager) René heard Céline Dion’s demo tape when he was considered as a potential producer for her album. He soon took over as her agent. He continued as her manager until June 2014, when he had to step down due to his battle with cancer.
Angélil became one of several co-owners of Montreal’s iconic Schwartz’s Deli in 2012.
In 1966, Angélil married his first wife, Denyse Duquette. They had a son, Patrick (born 1968), and divorced in 1972. In 1974, he married singer Manon Kirouac (aka Anne Renée)—the couple had two children, Jean Pierre (born 1974) and Anne Marie Angélil (born 1977), they divorced in 1988.
Angélil, a well-known former singer-turned-manager, was sent a tape of then 12-year-old singer Céline Dion, and invited her to audition in Quebec. He began managing her career, taking the teen and her mother on tour in Canada, Japan and Europe. He mortgaged his house to finance her first album in 1981. Angélil and Dion began a personal relationship when she was 18, and he, 46. They married on 17 December 1994, in a lavish wedding ceremony at Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica, which was broadcast live on Canadian television.
The couple had difficulty conceiving, resorting to in vitro fertilization. Their efforts were extensively publicized. Their son, René-Charles Angélil, was born in 2001. Dion suffered a miscarriage in 2009, then gave birth to twin boys in October 2010. The boys were named Eddy, after Eddy Marnay, who produced Dion’s first five albums, and Nelson Angélil, after former South African president Nelson Mandela.
Angélil was a fan of NHL hockey and a good friend of former Colorado Avalanche president and general manager Pierre Lacroix.
Someone who knew them for a long time said that “backstage, out of the eye of the general public, they were the kindest, most down-to-earth, superstars that I’ve ever known in my entire career.”
Angélil was accused by Yun Kyeong Kwon Sung of sexual assault. The alleged incident took place in 2000 in a Las Vegas hotel and was investigated by police. Angélil eventually paid $2 million to settle the case, though never admitted wrongdoing. He said that the settlement was paid to avoid negative publicity that might upset Dion. Yun and her husband, Ae Ho Kwon, were arrested in 2003 and charged with trying to extort money from Angélil over a false claim of rape. The couple were convicted in 2005.
In 2001 Angélil and Dion filed a $5 million defamation lawsuit against the Quebec tabloid Allô Vedettes, which claimed that the couple paid $5,001 to rent the swimming pool of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas so that Dion could sunbathe topless and Angélil could go skinny dipping. The couple strenuously denied the claim.
Angélil was an avid poker player, having qualified for the 2005 World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions, and finishing in the money at the 2007 Mirage Poker Showdown event on the World Poker Tour, a series of high-stakes tournaments. Angélil was also rumoured to be a dedicated gambler away from the poker table. He reportedly gambled upwards of $1 million a week at Caesars Palace, and kept a line of credit for the same amount at Bellagio. In 2007 Jan Jones, a casino executive and the former mayor of Las Vegas, claimed that Angélil gambled $1 million a week, but later retracted the statement. Caesars Palace later released a statement of Angélil’s gambling losses and wins with his permission.
Angélil suffered a heart attack in 1991 at age 49. In 1999 he was diagnosed with throat cancer and made a full recovery after treatment. He appeared in the video for Simple Plan’s song “Save You” as a survivor of cancer. In 2009, Angélil reportedly underwent a heart-related medical procedure to deal with arterial blockage. The procedure had been planned for months and was not heart surgery.
Angélil had surgery in December 2013 for throat cancer. In June 2014 Angélil stepped down as Dion’s manager to focus on his health, but was still involved in business decisions related to her career. In September 2015 Dion announced that Angélil’s cancer had progressed and that he had only “months to live”. Angélil died on 14 January 2016, two days before his 74th birthday and the death of his own brother-in-law, Daniel Dion. He received a national funeral service at Notre-Dame Basilica (Montreal) from the government of Quebec on 22 January. Angélil was survived by his wife, six children, and seven grandchildren.
Legacy and honors
- 1987 and 1988: Félix Award for Manager of the Year.
- July 2013: Awarded the Order of Canada.
- 22 January 2016: Canadian flags flew at half-mast on all government buildings in his memoriam and national funeral service in Notre-Dame Basilica (Montreal)
- 15 February 2016: Honoured by Grammy Award during its annual “In Memoriam” tribute.