René Angélil was laid to rest today, remembered as a man who helped put Quebec and his superstar singer wife Céline Dion on the international stage.
Angélil’s funeral at the same church where he married Dion in 1994 attracted hundreds of fans, politicians, celebrities and other dignitiaries. Angélil died of throat cancer last week. Dion’s husband and long time manager was 73.
The hour and a half long religious service included eulogies from two of Angélil’s sons: René-Charles, the couple’s eldest son and Patrick, Angélil’s son from a previous marriage. René-Charles said he was lucky to have been born into a family with lots of love.
“Fifteen years is not a long time for a son to get to know his father. You had a busy life but we were communicating through golf, hockey, poker and smoked meat,” said René-Charles, whose comment elicited laughter from the packed church.
“You left me now with enough good memories of you to share with my younger brothers. As they grow older, without you being around, I’ll make sure to pass on what I’ve learned from you. You are a tough act to follow but with your help, everything is going to be fine. Dad, I promise you here that we’re all going to live up to your standards. I love you, dad.”
Patrick Angélil also drew some chuckles from mourners with his memories of his poker-playing father, who always told them he loved them and shared his passions with them.
“When we were very young, we were taught to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ To look both ways before crossing the street. And in blackjack, when you get a 5-1-6, you have to double down,” said Patrick Angélil.
Imitating his father’s throaty voice, Patrick said his dad would always reassure them, that “everything would be fine.” Dion hugged and kissed both René-Charles and Patrick after their eulogies.
Wearing a veil and black dress, Dion entered the church and walked down the aisle holding the hands of her twin sons, Nelson and Eddy who were by her side, with René-Charles, her mother, and Angélil’s three other children from previous marriages: Patrick, Jean-Pierre and Anne-Marie. Before the service began, Dion laid black flowers on top of the pillow René-Charles put on top of the black casket. The service included prayers, the reading of religious passages, communion and singing by a choir and soloists.
Dion neither spoke nor performed at the service. But her voice echoed throughout the church as they played four of her love songs as chosen by Angélil: Trois heures 20; All the Way (duet with Frank Sinatra); L’amour existe encore; and Pour que tu m’aimes encore. The last song played as pallbearers brought the casket down the aisle and out of the church, as people applauded, cheered and whistled.
The service was telecast on three networks and streamed online. Hundreds of ordinary citizens lined up early to procure one of the 700 seats reserved for the public in the church that can hold 2700 people. Most of the other seats were filled with celebrities, politicians, sports figures and people who worked for Angélil’s company, including: former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney; Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard; ex-premiers Jean Charest and Bernard Landry; NDP leader Thomas Mulcair; PQ leader Pierre Karl Péladeau; Montreal mayor Denis Coderre; Quebec City mayor Régis Labeaume; Laval mayor Marc Demers; former Montreal Canadiens players Guy Carbonneau and Vincent Damphousse; singers Roch Voisine, René Simard and Gregory Charles.
Dion yesterday spent over seven hours greeting mourners during a public visitation at the church. Dion’s family accepted an offer by the Couillard government to hold a national funeral and help in the organization of the service. The premier said it was ” to honour a man who marked the cultural landscape of our nation.”