Montreal (AFP) – Thousands gathered Friday at Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica for the funeral of Canadian pop superstar Celine Dion’s husband and longtime manager Rene Angelil.
The funeral mass was televised live across Canada and streamed online for the singer’s fans around the world.
Angelil died January 14 at the couple’s home in Las Vegas, Nevada, after a long struggle with throat cancer. He was 73.
Dion kept vigil over her husband’s remains for seven hours Thursday as well-wishers waited hours in line to view his casket and offer the grieving singer words of sympathy.
She returned on Friday with the couple’s three sons for the funeral mass at the basilica, the same place where 21 years earlier the couple exchanged wedding vows.
Wearing a black veil, her hair pulled back, and holding her youngest twin sons by the hand, Dion marched in at exactly 3:20 p.m. (2030 GMT) as the song “320” played. She recorded that song soon after Angelil took her under his wing.
Other Dion hits rang out between liturgies and eulogies.
“We all remember Rene Angelil the conqueror of show business, the tireless manager, intelligent, talented, visionary, the one who helped Quebec radiate across the world,” said Patrick Angelil, Rene’s son from a previous marriage.
“You’re a tough act to follow,” added Rene-Charles, the deceased man’s eldest son with Dion.
Some 2,000 invited guests — family, friends, senior politicians and entertainers, including former prime minister Brian Mulroney and Sophie Gregoire, the wife of current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — packed the Gothic Revival church, its benches decorated with white lilies for the funeral.
Several singers and composers who had worked with Angelil, as well as former hockey players and poker stars, arrived early to offer their condolences to Dion.
A line formed outside the basilica the night before as hundreds of people came to pay their respects to Dion, who dressed entirely in black and was often seen wiping away tears.
The government of Quebec province had offered to hold a “national” funeral — akin to a state funeral — for Angelil. Provincial flags across the province were lowered to half mast.
Montreal Archbishop Christian Lepine presided over the funeral, held in the city’s old quarter.
– ‘My career, his masterpiece’ –
Dion’s fans were handed a memorial card with a black and white photo of Angelil on their way out of the basilica. A note from Dion written on the back of the card reassured them that she would return to the stage after pausing to grieve.
After selling more than 220 million albums worldwide, the couple had settled in Las Vegas where Dion signed a lucrative contract to sing nightly at The Colosseum. She is scheduled to return to the stage on February 23.
“I understood that my career was somehow his masterpiece, his song, his symphony to himself. The idea that it could remain unfinished would have pained terribly. I understood that if he ever left us, I should continue without him, for him,” the message said.
Born in Montreal to Lebanese-Syrian immigrants, Angelil began his showbiz career as a member of a band playing yeye — French 60s music — called the Baronets.
Later, he turned to managing the careers of other entertainers, and signed on one of the biggest names in Quebec music, Ginette Reno. The arrangement however ended abruptly in 1981.
Just then, another opportunity arose.
At age 12, Dion had recorded a demo tape with her mother and sent it to Angelil. He was so struck by her voice that he signed her to an exclusive management contract, even mortgaging his home to finance her debut album.
“I’d never heard anything like it. For me, it was the most beautiful voice in the world,” he recalled in interviews.
Angelil set out to make Dion world famous.
In 1994, when she was 26 and he was twice her age, the couple married in an extravagant ceremony that was televised live in Canada and splashed all over glossy magazines.
Rene Angelil leaves behind the couple’s three children — Rene-Charles, 15, and twins Nelson and Eddy, five — as well as three other children from two previous marriages.
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News source AFP