MONTREAL: A veiled, expressionless Céline Dion sat in silence at Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica on Friday as she, along with hundreds of her friends, family members and fans mourned the loss of her husband and longtime manager, René Angélil.
Angélil died Jan. 14, two days before his 74th birthday, after living with throat cancer for years.
She did not speak publicly at the funeral, instead leaving her and Angélil’s eldest son, René-Charles, to deliver a touching eulogy.
Dion and René-Charles had spent nearly seven hours the previous day greeting fans and mourners at a public visitation at the same church, just feet away from the open casket that contained Angélil’s body.
The couple had wed at the same church 21 years ago.
Retired National Hockey League coach Michel Bergeron, who once coached the Quebec City Nordiques and New York Rangers, was a close friend of Angélil’s.
“People ask me if I have memories. I have a thousand memories,” Bergeron said before entering the church. He said Friday marked the third occasion he had been to the Notre-Dame Basilica for a Dion-Angélil event: their 1994 wedding, the baptism of their eldest son René-Charles and finally, Angélil’s funeral.
He noted that Angélil, knowing he was terminally ill, had planned his funeral before dying. He joked he was anxious to see which pew seat Angélil assigned to him.
Countless Quebec celebrities and dignitaries noted Angélil’s generosity, among them former premier Jean Charest, current premier Philippe Couillard and the mayors of Montreal and Quebec City, Denis Coderre and Régis Labeaume.
Nearly 700 members of the public also attended Friday’s funeral. They began gathering outside the basilica as early as 6 a.m. to ensure they got a seat.
Clutching her copy of Paris Match magazine featuring a cover story on Dion and Angélil, Andréa Marier said the couple’s story — in which Angélil plucked Dion, then a teen from Charlemagne, Que., from obscurity and turned her into an international musical superstar — was an inspiration to thousands of fans.
“The grand and beautiful history of their love,” Marier said.
Angélil’s casket was later taken to Montreal’s Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery for a private graveside ceremony.