Published Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016 | 2:34 p.m.
Updated Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016 | 5:05 p.m.
Superstar singer Celine Dion had a premonition that Christmastime would be the last her husband and former longtime manager Rene Angelil would spend with their family of three children and her.
Rene died this morning at age 73, losing his awful battle against throat cancer shortly after she returned home from her performance at the Colosseum in Caesars Palace. The couple celebrated their 21st anniversary just last month.
It is not known if his last wish to pass away in her arms was fulfilled. Celine commented through her public-relations representative in Montreal: “It was a long and courageous battle against cancer. The family requests that their privacy be respected at the moment, but more details will be provided at a later time.”
The couple worked together since she was 12, and, despite their 26-year age difference, their fairytale romance lasted. They wed in 1994 in a lavish ceremony in Montreal. Celine once said: “We respected each other. We had the same dreams. We had the same goals.”
Their “perfect life” was shattered when doctors found a cancerous growth on Rene’s neck in 1999. “I felt strong because he needed me,” Celine said at the time. Rene thought he’d beaten the disease, and they renewed their vows in a spectacular Las Vegas-styled wedding in 2000.
The cancerous disease returned a second time, and they thought they’d conquered it again. But it attacked in the last two years, and Celine took a year off from her Caesars residency to care for him.
She even had their three children helping with his medical care, feeding him and holding the tube she administered as he was no longer able to eat properly. Rene commuted between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, where he was hospitalized for treatment and surgery that forced doctors to remove part of his tongue.
They relocated for a while to Boston, where she sat by his hospital bedside around-the-clock, except for her rush round-trip flight back to Las Vegas last summer for a promised appearance with Andrea Bocelli at the annual Keep Memory Alive gala fundraiser for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
She told me then in June as we talked about her bravery and courage in helping care for him: “Rene wanted me to be here. He’s fighting and working really hard.”
Celine also talked with us about Rene’s illness when she returned to Caesars to resume her residency Aug. 27. I remember vividly the emotional moment when she waved and blew a kiss to Rene as he watched from his bedroom on a closed-circuit television linkup during her opening-night news conference. He watched that debut show from beginning to end on the closed-circuit feed.
Backstage afterward, she told me that she only cried as the curtain came down. “I got through it for him. He’d told me that this is what he wanted. Rene wanted me onstage singing. That was what made him happy.”
Condolences from fans around the world and tributes from show business friends have begun pouring in by the thousands to Celine’s Facebook page and her fan club.
John Nelson, senior VP of AEG Live, who produces Celine’s show, told me this afternoon: “We are heartbroken to hear this news, not only because Rene was a great friend and mentor and an extraordinary partner with us in these shows at Caesars Palace for the last 13 years, but even more because he and Celine were so devoted to each other. Their relationship has been a model for us all.
“Rene was the most brilliant, generous and loyal partner one could have in business. And after the work was done, Rene was such a fun and joyful friend who loved to entertain, eat amazing meals and tell great stories. There will never be another one like Rene.”
Fellow Strip headliner Donny Osmond commented this afternoon from his Flamingo theater: “My heart breaks for Las Vegas neighbor and friend Celine Dion. Extremely saddened to hear of Rene’s passing.”
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., released the following statement:
“In 2002, Celine Dion and her family took a risk on Las Vegas. For a star of her caliber to commit to an extended show contract like she did was unprecedented for modern Las Vegas. At the time, it was seen as a risk, but it has forever changed the Las Vegas entertainment model as we now know it.
“As a result, we in Las Vegas feel Celine Dion is one of ours. She has brought so much positive attention to our city. Her love affair with Rene and her family was something that was so admirable. I have always appreciated Celine and Rene’s support, and I express my sympathy to their family.”
AEG Live/Concerts West President John Meglen told me: “Rene was truly a mentor to me in many ways. I am truly heartbroken. I can only send my love and prayers to Celine and her boys right now. We will always think about how Rene would do it and try to continue in his ways. I am very, very sad.”
Caesars Palace President Gary Selesner added: “We are incredibly saddened by the loss of our friend and partner, Rene Angelil, Celine Dion’s husband, and our heart goes out to Celine and the family. It is impossible to overstate the impact Rene and Celine have had on the history of entertainment in Las Vegas and at Caesars Palace, with his audacious vision regarding her residency now 13 years and counting.
“Rene was truly an amazing human being, showman and businessman and over these many years became a loved and cherished member of the Caesars Palace family. On behalf of our owners, management and employees, we will forever be grateful for his love and friendship. On a personal note, I will miss him greatly. There will never be another Rene Angelil.”
In honor of Rene, Caesars will run a photograph of Rene smiling on its marquee tonight.
County Coroner John Fudenberg issued an official statement on Rene’s death: “The Clark County Office of the Coroner/Medical Examiner was notified of the death of Rene Angelil today (Thursday, Jan. 14). Mr. Angelil, 73, died this morning of throat cancer at his home in Henderson while under the care of a physician. (The technical medical description of the cause of death is squamous carcinoma of the floor of the mouth.)
“We have determined Mr. Angelil’s death was due to natural causes. No further investigation into his death is expected. Our condolences go out to Mr. Angelil’s family and friends during this difficult time for them.”
Celine is obviously devastated and distraught. However much one prepares for the death of a partner, one is never stilled when it actually happens. Our love and prayers go out to her and her three children at this difficult time.
Celine was scheduled to perform two remaining shows of the current run this Saturday and Sunday. Here’s the official AEG statement: “With heavy hearts, we regret to inform you that Celine performances Saturday, Jan. 16, and Sunday, Jan. 17, at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace have been canceled. Celine earlier today announced the death of her husband, Rene Angelil, after a long fight with cancer.
“Celine will return to the Colosseum on Feb. 23 to resume performances. All of us at AEG and Caesars Palace have Celine and her children in our thoughts and prayers.” She then has a lengthy hiatus with Canadian and European concerts set for summer and her next run at Caesars starting June 1.
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Over the years since Celine’s arrival here in March 2003 for the first set of Caesars shows, I often worked with Rene. He was the kindest and gentlest of men. The most polite individual. He was always courteous in his dealings. You could not have asked for a nicer soul in show business.
Rene always had Celine’s best interests at heart. He protected her from overwork, and he encouraged her in all things. His personal struggle was the most painful imaginable, but he had an extraordinary strength wanting her to resume her singing career and not having her caring for him 24 hours a day.
I knew him when he often played poker to raise charity funds here in Las Vegas — especially for Opportunity Village. Celine often joked about his gaming losses, but I know he always enjoyed himself playing poker at the Venetian and Caesars.
He was always approachable and respectful. I knew him when he talked with me about Celine’s show. I knew him when he’d arrange for me to meet her for interviews. I knew him when he promised that she’d attend our Keep Memory Alive gala to sing with Andrea Bocelli.
He was much loved by all of us in the media and in this wonderful showbiz community of Las Vegas. Rene will be greatly missed. A true gentleman of extraordinary qualities and love. Rest in peace, good sir. Thankfully no more pain!
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
Transport yourself to the opulent and excessive Roman Empire at Caesars Palace. But the ever-changing Caesars Palace is far from ancient. The hotel and casino is constantly raising the bar for what visitors can expect in a Vegas resort experience.
Caesars Palace features 3,348 rooms and suites in five towers, including the new luxury boutique Nobu Hotel and Restaurant, which opened Feb. 4, 2013, in the totally remodeled Centurian Tower. Caesars features 129,000 square feet of gaming space, including the Strip’s largest poker room and a 250-seat sports book. Other amenities include about two dozen restaurants, a four-level shopping mall, four pools, a spa, Pure and Poetry nightclubs and Pussycat Dolls.
Dining options include restaurants from world-renown chefs Guy Savoy, Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay and, on Feb. 4, 2013, Nobu Matsuhisa.
You never know what characters you’ll run into at Caesars with regular performers like Jerry Seinfeld, Bette Midler, Elton John and maybe even the emperor himself.