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Watching The Unsinkable Celine Dion Play Chess With Death

Molly Lambert live-blogs Dion's Vegas tribute to her departed husband, René Angélil.

When Celine Dion announced that she was live-streaming the opening of her first Las Vegas show since the death of her husband, mentor, and former manager, René Angélil, some part of my brain went, "Sure, I will watch that." I was curious to see how one of the world's most professional performers would deal with broadcasting her genuine sorrow to the world. I wanted to know if that famous voice would break. I wanted to try to see what Celine saw in René, about whom I know basically nothing except that he was her mentor and they had a 26-year age difference. But they also had a 21-year marriage that was by all accounts "perfect." And as French-Canadian pop royalty, Celine is mourning her husband to cement his legacy. Let's talk about love.

00:39 It's sort of weird to see someone you only know as a bald man with a gray beard as a cherubic infant? From what I understand, René Angélil is sort of the Québécois Phil Spector without all the murder and gunplay. Although he's not unsketchy, having discovered Celine and become her manager when she was 12, then getting together with her romantically when she turned 18 and he was in his forties. Ew. Anyway, what a cute baby he was!

00:58 I am learning a lot about René Angélil — I had no idea he was Syrian Canadian? I know nothing about him except that he is Celine Dion's older husband whom she loves and credits for her career. Here's René avec un moppe-toppe fronting his mod-pop band Les Baronets on a Canadian TV show! And here's René in an orange, brown, and yellow bathrobe reading Gambler's Digest and looking like Alfred Molina in Boogie Nights. Was that really the best picture you could find?

1:09 OK, what I thought was a picture of René with one of his kids and ex-wives turns out to be a picture of René with Celine and her mom. Ew, indeed. She is fully a child in this photograph, and just a couple of slides later she's a bride. The power of love!

1:20 Celine's signature move was apparently holding René's face with both hands.

1:30 He loved hockey! Because Canada.

2:13 Look how much fun they had together, playing golf and meeting Nelson Mandela!

2:31 Just learning that Celine and René's kids are named Nelson and Eddy. Celine has said this has nothing to do with the 1930s Hollywood baritone Nelson Eddy; rather, the names were given in tribute to Nelson Mandela and a mentor of Dion's named Eddy.

2:55 I've never heard René's voice until now. I imagined it would be deeper. Interesting that he's responsible for one of the most famous voices of all time. I think I'm starting to 'ship Celine and René. He enabled Celine to become Celine. He let her be great!

3:45 Celine appears onstage to a standing ovation. She is wearing a black sequined gown with black lace sleeves and silver star embroidery — a performance outfit that conveys "somber occasion" but still also says "Vegas!"

4:00 Oh no — she's singing "With One More Look at You," the theme song from the Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson version of A Star Is Born! Why would she bring up A Star Is Born in the context of her relationship with her older husband! A Star Is Born is all about how the rising star's fame eclipses her male mentor's and ultimately leads to his decline! It's not a good parallel to draw!

4:33 Damn, her voice sounds nice. Like pure Canadian maple syrup.

6:00 OK, that was human. Celine Dion is human! She bleeds just like us! Sometimes she goes a little pitchy when she's going through some shit!

7:00 I'm bawling.

7:20 And now I'm laughing through my tears at Celine's facial expressions.

7:42: "Your eyes are like fingers touching my body" is such a weird lyric.

8:09: Celine Dion is playing chess with death and she is winning!


9:11 I was wrong — Celine Dion is not playing chess against death. She is playing chess against HERSELF.

9:30: This ballad is from 1976, so there's obviously a seventies-fifties part.

9:54 We've come through the valley and we're marching over the hills, back to Canada, where the legend of René and Celine will live on forever in the sky.

10:33 More tears, Celine's and mine. A consummate performer all the way!

11:12: "I did rehearse the song in my closet, and it went way better than that." Awww. She was probably nervous and feeling the pressure to be perfect.

11:54: "He's always been onstage with me, and nothing will ever change that ... "

14:40 OK, so maybe it was kind of like A Star Is Born? But in a way that worked out for everyone? Whatever, y'all, love can move mountains. He mortgaged his house to finance her first record.

15:00 Is it gauche to wish she had done "My Heart Will Go On"?

16:56 And with that turn of her back to us, Celine is back in full pro mode. It's all coming back to me now.

17:50 Look how happy she was to nail that note after faffing up a couple times in the first song. She has internalized the teachings of her ultimate critic, René. Emotion is fine, tears onstage, too, but it better not fuck up the three-octave register!


19:40: Her cheekbone contouring is at peak Kardashian levels of perfection.

19:58 I wish I could see the rest of this show? Especially since they just teased us with the fadeout of "Because You Loved Me."

20:00 Guess I'm going to Las Vegas!

21:00 Let's all hug Celine Dion with our minds.