A Celebration of Life for René Angélil, husband and manager for Céline Dion was held at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on Feb. 3.
Open to the public, the theater where Céline currently performs and was built for her first show, “A New Day,” was the perfect venue to honor Angélil. In the darkness, his image first appeared on a video screen, and then the image of a gold hand on a wooden base appeared before a single spot shined upon the sculpture.
Robin Leach opened the ceremony explaining the meaning of the sculpture. During the opening of Céline’s show, Angélil would shake everyone’s hand. He was also superstitious and would know on wood for luck. In 2001, when their son René-Charles was born, sculptures of their hands were created. When “Céline” was due to reopen last year, Angélil would not be able to attend for his traditional handshake with everyone in the wings before the show. The sculpture of his hand cast in gold, set on a wood pedestal, was placed so Céline, artists and crew could touch his hand and knock on wood for a good show. Leach also told the audience that at the end of the ceremony, everyone was encouraged to come to the stage to touch the hand as “a link to the past and a good omen for the future.
Céline, her son René-Charles, Angélil’s other children Patrick, Jean Pierre and Anne Marie and Angélil’s brother Andre walked on stage. Céline was stunning in a black, off the shoulder, knee length dress with her hair up enhanced by diamond earrings. René-Charles looked very grownup in his black suit. The family sat together on stage. Scott Price with Philippe Dunnigan, Lindsay Springer, Dmitri Kourka and Jennifer Erikkson were introduced and would perform musical interludes including René’s favorites songs.
Patrick Angélil continued the ceremony introducing the guest speakers. “I know he would be very happy knowing that everyone came together for his celebration of life.”
Gary Selesner, president of Caesars Palace, spoke first. He touched the hand and shared that René touched Caesars Palace with the inspiration of The Colosseum. Selesner witnesses first hand how René knocked on wood for luck. Selesner did not have any wood in his office, so René would knock on his glass and stone coffee table. Selesner would receive a beautiful wooden music box that Selesner would keep on his coffee table. Now a picture of René remains in the music box.
John Meglen, president and co-CEO of Concerts West Live, met the couple 15 years ago. It was René who came up with the idea of a residency show for Céline. He spoke about René’s love of food and one would know what kind of meeting to expect by the meal served since food was always served. The day René approached AEG about the 110-foot screen now on stage, the breakfast served was gourmet. That day, AEG bought the screen for a price of $8 million dollars.
Ken Ehrlich, director of the show for Céline’s return, spoke how René loved to laugh, gamble and eat. There had been a debate who first introduced René to In-and-Out Burger and Ehrlich smiled as he stated that it was him.
Norm Clarke, columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, shared a love of sports with René, which was passed down, to his son, René-Charles. Clarke looked at René-Charles and told him how much his father loved him.
Mark Juliano, former president of Caesars Palace; Gary Loveland, chairman of Caesars Entertainment; Mitch Garber, chairman of Cirque du Soleil; Paul Farberman, formerly of Feeling Productions, management company for Céline Dion; Rob Prinz; Dave Platel and Robin Leach emotionally spoke about René and his impact on their lives and the lives of the many people he touched.
Senior Executive Vice President Opportunity Village Linda Smith told the audience that René and Céline held a benefit show and raised $1 million dollars to build a new campus for Opportunity Village and it was the first time this amount was raised in its history. In 1954, Las Vegas families wanted to help their children with intellectual disabilities and founded the not-for-profit organization.
David Foster, longtime friend and collaborator, sang “The Color of Love,” which was the couple’s song 21 years ago. It was an emotional moment for Céline as memories obviously flooded back.
The big moment was when Céline spoke to the emotional crowd. "This is my home away from home. At the same time I'm supposed to feel extremely comfortable being home and right now I'm not sure how comfortable I feel." She thanked everyone paying tribute to Angélil, "I feel his love in this room. I feel his strength and his warmth being reflected in all of you. René always surrounded me with the best people who believed in us and always worked so hard on our behalf."
Her presence was powerful and emotional as Céline spoke about her love for René and their special bond. She admitted that when asked if she loved sports, she would answer that she loved René very much and he loved sports. As the feelings swelled in the room, Céline ended the evening with "On behalf of my family, thank you again for being here with us this evening for this beautiful tribute to mon amour. René I love you, so much. Merci. Good night."
There was a standing ovation as everyone hugged and the entire family walked over to hold the hand sculpture of René Angélil.