This is the René Angélil I’ll remember

By Hello! Canada editor-in-chief Alison Eastwood

“What will Celine do now?”

That’s the question everyone asked me after the news about René Angélil’s death broke the afternoon of Jan. 14.

What would you do if the only man you’ve ever been in love with, the father of your children, the man at the centre of your life and career for 36 years, were suddenly gone, and gone forever?

Celine Dion is at home and grieving deeply, not just for herself but for their families – especially his three grown children from his first marriage; and her young sons Nelson and Eddy, born just 5 years ago; and René-Charles, 14, who will feel it most deeply of all.

Celine and René often invited Hello! into their home to spend time with their growing family.

Having talked to both Celine and René many times since Hello! announced her pregnancy with twins Nelson and Eddy back in 2010, I’ve known for years that their relationship, which was not without its struggles, was also quite magical.

We all know the folklore: Celine and René, both from Quebec, first met when the singer was a child prodigy of 12 and he, struck by her otherworldly talent, appointed himself her mentor. As she grew up, their feelings changed from friendship to love.

Read More: Tender moments from the couple's 21-year marriage

Celine later recalled that her mom was horrified when, at 19, her youngest daughter confessed to having “really strong feelings” for her twice-married 45-year-old manager. “She tried everything to kill him and to make me snap out of it! I was very frustrated and mad at her at first because I said, ‘It’s not just like a crazy thing. It’s real!’”

“She had no choice. Love won.”

Were they a supercouple? Maybe, but they never acted like one. I’ll admit their wedding and Vegas vow-renewal ceremony were lavish, and they did build a rather opulent mansion for themselves on Jupiter Island, Fla. (which is where we photographed them for the pregnancy reveal), but that wasn’t how they lived their life. Celine and René never saw themselves as different from or better than anyone else. They were hands-on at home. They raised their children out of the spotlight (allowing select media a glimpse into their family life every so often). They kept their families close (his son worked with him, her sisters helped take care of the kids) and were unfailingly modest, gracious and generous to everyone around them.

The couple at home in Florida.

They also went through unbelievable trials together, beginning in 1992, during their engagement, when workaholic René suffered his first heart attack at just 51. In 1998 he endured his first battle with throat cancer. He had successful heart surgery in 2009 — only to have his cancer return four years later. And then there were all the IVF treatments that Celine endured before the births of both René-Charles and the twins, which her husband described in intricate detail to me. His attentiveness and empathy for her during those times were seemingly limitless. He talked about all the stress these procedures placed on Celine, both mentally and physically. He wanted to be there for her, protect her, support her.

René admitted to me, though, that after he was diagnosed with cancer the first time, the dynamic between them shifted. Now she was the caregiver, making sure he followed his doctor's orders. These challenges brought them closer. She loved him more. And he loved her so much that he urged her to get back onstage at Caesar’s Palace during his final illness. It was as if he wanted to make sure she had the music and the love of fans to support her after he’d gone.

René encouraged Celine to return to her Las Vegas show in August 2015. Photo: © Getty Images

Today my heart is aching for Celine as well as their three boys – René was an exceptionally involved father. Some of the things he said to me about his children were exquisitely touching. Here’s one such passage, from the chat we had just before Celine went into hospital to have the twins (because of press deadlines I ended up interviewing her while she was in labour!).

“René," I asked, "you have three grown children from your first marriage, as well as your 10-year-old son René Charles. Now you’re having twins. Does it feel any different this time around?"

“You know,” he said, in his soft voice, “the first time Celine was pregnant, during the pregnancy my feeling was that I love her so much. I want her to be happy. She comes from a family of 14 children, so of course she loves children. That was her biggest wish, to have a child. I was happy for her because I love her. But I was questioning myself, 'Am I going to love this one as much as the three others?' Not telling her, of course, but that’s what I thought. Throughout the pregnancy I was happy for her. When they made me cut the cord, it was a miracle. I understood what a miracle is. Instantly I would have died for him. I love him so much, it’s incredible.

René loved nothing more than spending time with his children. Photo: © Getty Images

“During the first few years,” he recalled, “it was only, ‘Mom, Mom, Mommy.’ Celine kept telling me, ‘You’ll see in a few years.’ This is what happened. We became so close. We do sports together. I take him to school every morning. I pick him up every afternoon. I play baseball with him. Of course I go to all of his games. He’s a maniac right now for baseball. He sleeps with his glove. She was right. As the boys grow older they become like your buddy and the relationship is great."

“So this time around,” I asked, “you know that your heart has infinite capacity for love?"

“Yes,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to explain to you. Now that I know about the miracle, I don’t have the same feeling while she’s pregnant. I know I’m going to love them just as much.”

That’s how I’ll remember René. The soft-spoken man who loved deeply, felt deeply and was his wife’s biggest fan. Which is why, even though I’m sure Celine now yearns to cocoon with family and her children, whom she loves with everything she has, she’ll be back onstage. Singing. For us. Because that’s what René wanted.

So if you ask me “What will Celine do now?” My answer to you is: She will love, and she will sing.

HELLO! Canada magazine is available for your tablet and smartphone. Get HELLO! Canada, PEOPLE, Vanity Fair and over 100 more of the world’s best magazines for one low monthly price at Texture by Next Issue. CLICK HERE to sign up for a free trial.