The Tragedy Of Celine Dion Explained

With the good in life comes the bad, and that's a major thread of the story of Celine Dion. In possession of one of the most powerful, emotive, and distinctive voices in the history of music, Celine Dion is among the bestselling French-singing artists of all time, and one of the most successful English-language pop and adult contemporary performers, too. A teen star in her native Quebec, Dion is among a handful of musicians who became huge stars after they switched genres. She crossed over from stately francophone balladry into English pop, and rocketed to superstardom in the U.S. and beyond in the '90s. She belted out prom, movie, and love songs like "Where Does My Heart Beat Now," "The Power of Love," "Beauty and the Beast," "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," and of course "My Heart Will Go On," from "Titanic."

Dion can express a lot of emotions through her very popular and lucrative musical career, but perhaps more than any other, she can make her voice exude pain. Sadly and tragically, it's a state with which she's all too familiar. The woman with a superhuman voice has endured a lot of very human moments of death, illness, and loss. Here's a look into the tragic side of the life of Celine Dion.

Celine Dion was bullied before and after she was famous

Most attention given to Celine Dion from the 1990s and beyond has been praise, but throughout her childhood and the early years of her career, Dion was bullied and mocked. "I was definitely not very good at school. I was not the cool dude, I was not good looking, I was feeling awkward," she told Bang Showbiz in 2013. "My teeth were all crooked and we were poor a little bit so the clothes were passed on from my brothers to my sisters to me."

Even after she'd established herself as a musical star on the rise in Quebec, with initial sales of about 125,000 copies of her albums sold in 1981, Dion continued to be mocked about her appearance and her smile, except this time by the French-language media. One magazine came up with the nickname "Canine Dion" to describe her less-than-straight and narrow, sharp-looking teeth. Dion was so affected by the negative attention that the state of her teeth became a secret the famous musician tried to hide from fans. She started to perform differently, tilting her head upward and holding the microphone in front of her mouth, both actions designed to hide her teeth from audiences and cameras.

Celine Dion had years of difficulty building a family

Perhaps because she was raised in a household with 13 brothers and sisters, the idea of a sizable family of her own was always in the cards for Celine Dion. She personally places motherhood above all things, including music. "I'm not really a singer. My life is to be a mom," Dion told People. "It is what I enjoy the most. It is my most amazing reward. I will take a chance with my music. I don't take risks with my family." But Dion did have to take some risks and seek out medical assistance to forge that family she so desired. 

Her first child with husband René Angélil, a musician relationship with a controversial age gap of 26 years, was a son named René-Charles Angélil, born in January 2001, and conceived through in vitro fertilization treatments. Six years of traditional methods had failed to result in a conception for the couple, and Dion calls her firstborn son her "miracle child."

After the birth of René-Charles, Dion and Angélil attempted to get pregnant again, and once more sought the assistance of fertility doctors. Dion went through six rounds of IVF before getting pregnant, which sadly ended in a miscarriage. But in 2010, Dion gave birth to fraternal twin boys Eddy and Nelson, who the singer has raised alone since the death of their father, shortly after their fifth birthday.

Health problems nearly took away Celine Dion's voice

Celine Dion is a singer with a powerful voice, and if she were to ever lose that instrument, it would be a tragic loss to her life and livelihood. Dion faced that possibility in 2012 when she was diagnosed with a serious ailment. After Dion publicly struggled to sing at a sound-check before a show in February 2012, she sought the help of top laryngeal physiologist Gerald Berke at UCLA Medical Center, who diagnosed a weakened right vocal cord and advised the singer to rest her voice for six to eight weeks, leading to many concert cancellations.

Six years later, medical issues once more threatened Dion's abilities. "Celine has been dealing with a condition in her middle ear known as Patulous Eustachian tube, which causes hearing irregularities, and makes it extremely difficult to sing," the singer's Facebook account announced in March 2018. Despite treating the condition with different medications for as long as 18 months, the regimen stopped being effective, requiring Dion to submit to a surgical procedure to restore her hearing health and ability to sing at the high level to which she'd grown accustomed. Because she couldn't sing and needed surgery with recovery time, Dion postponed three weeks' worth of her Las Vegas residency dates in 2018.

Celine Dion's parents died after serious health issues

Adhemar Dion died at his home in suburban Montreal on November 30, 2003. His youngest child, superstar singer Celine Dion, wasn't able to join the family and be with her father when he died — she'd planned a visit for mid-December 2003 — but she canceled concerts at her Las Vegas residency to attend his funeral. The elder Dion lived to be 80 years old, but his death was still a hard thing for Celine Dion to grasp. "I have to say, it's very difficult, when you lose a parent, when you lose a close, close, close one," she told "Larry King Live" in 2004. "Even though if you expect it, you can never be prepared for it," Dion said of her father's death from cancer.

At a concert in Miami in January 2020, Dion took the stage and shared some tragic information. "I'm pretty sure that you've heard the news about my mom passing away early this morning," she said. "But I'm doing okay." Thérèse Tanguay Dion had died earlier that day, with her children in attendance. After more than a year of serious health issues, including significant memory, hearing, and vision loss, she died at the age of 92.

Celine Dion has a rare and serious neurological disease

In November 2021, Celine Dion was supposed to start a new residency show in Las Vegas, but a few weeks before its debut, she announced that the first three months of dates would be postponed to a later date. The reason: Dion's health had been on the decline for quite some time, and was experiencing debilitating and disruptive muscle spasms. "I'm heartbroken by this," Dion wrote of the medically related cancellations on Instagram (via CNN). "I have to focus on getting better."

About a year later, after getting back into the business of singing professionally, Dion called off more planned concert dates because she was unable to perform, and with a reason that also explained her frightening muscle spasms. Doctors diagnosed Dion with a disease you definitely don't want: stiff-person syndrome, an exceedingly uncommon autoimmune and neurological disorder that manifests painfully in spasms and very rigid muscles, as well as strictly limiting mobility and the capacity to sing. Stiff person syndrome is diagnosed at a rate of about one per one million people, and while there's no cure, its symptoms can be alleviated somewhat with physical therapy and reduced exposure to light and sound, and is certainly one of the more extreme reasons for a musician to cancel tour dates.

Celine Dion's husband died

At the age of 12, Celine Dion sent a demo tape to talent manager René Angélil, whose name her brother found on the back of an LP. He agreed to be her manager and set about making Dion a star, mortgaging his home to get the money to record his client's first album, and setting her on the road to success. The relationship between the musician and her manager 26 years her senior was purely professional at first, until Dion developed romantic feelings around the time she turned 18. They became a couple, although Dion's mother was initially opposed to the relationship because Angélil had been through two divorces. 

They got married in 1994, and soon after, Angélil faced health issues, receiving a throat cancer diagnosis in 1999. Dion stopped performing for two years to be with her husband during radiation treatments and surgeries. In remission from 2000 onward, the cancer returned in the form of a throat tumor in 2013; Angélil resigned as Dion's manager, and she took a break to be with him. The cancer came back for a third time, and in January 2016, Angélil died at age 73. "I never kissed another man in my life. So the man of my life was my partner, and we were one. So when he stopped suffering, I said to myself, he's okay. And he deserves not to suffer," Dion told "CBS Sunday Morning" months after Angélil's death.

Many of Celine Dion's relatives died before old age

Among Celine Dion's 13 siblings is her older sister, Liette. In 1977, Lisette's daughter, Karine, was born and later diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a medical condition that causes thick mucus to develop in the lungs, causing damage to several body systems. Karine Ménard died from complications of the disease at age 16 while her aunt held her. "I started to sing softly in her ear, and out of nowhere her eyes closed," Dion recalled to People. "One tear came down Karine's cheek, and then she went." Dion later recorded the 1995 French song "Vole" in tribute to her niece, and became highly active in the charitable organization Cystic Fibrosis Canada.

The year 2016 was particularly tragic for the extended Dion family. In January, Dion's older brother, Daniel, died. His death at age 59 to brain, tongue, and throat cancer, with which he'd been diagnosed several years earlier, came just two days following the cancer-related death of Dion's husband, René Angélil. In the summer of 2016, Celine Dion's sister Lisette learned that her husband, Guy Poirier, was diagnosed with cancer of the bones, brain, and lungs. He died in August 2016.