A casting of Rene Angelil’s hand will remain under the spotlight during the “Celebration of Life” event at the Colosseum in Caesars Palace that has been organized by Celine Dion at tonight’s tribute to her late husband and manager.
Last Nov. 18, I reported it as the most loving and romantic story I’d heard in my 52 years of living in America.
It was in 2001 when their son, Rene-Charles, was born that they commissioned artists Jean-Raymond Goyer and Jules LaSalle to make a sculpture of their hands as a memento.
Every night seconds before superstar Celine went onstage at the Colosseum, Rene and she always held hands for a few moments to wish her a great performance. It wasn’t necessary for them to speak.
That tradition lasted through the years from her first show at Caesars on March 25, 2003, and continued until Rene was too sick from his tragic battle with throat cancer to make the journey to the theater. Rene died Jan. 13 here in Las Vegas.
A casting had been made of his hand and was perched on a pedestal in a darkened private corner of the stage where she made her entrance. Each night, she gripped the hand as an acknowledgement of their love before she walked onstage. The artists and crew could touch it or knock on the wood, too.
AEG Live’s John Nelson, who has written program notes for the “Celebration of Life,” told me: “The hands are very significant. They held a microphone that he talked into regularly. While Celine performed, Rene sat there in the dark at the soundboard. His voice went into her ear monitors.
“Nobody knew what he said to her or what feedback he was giving. Once at the end of a show, I saw him raise the microphone and read his lips, ‘Je t’aime (I love you).’ The hands are our link still to Rene. He will forever be the caring guardian of his family.
“When this ‘Celebration of Life’ came to perspective, a gold hand seemed to be the right choice to perpetuate his memory as a link to the past and a good omen for the future.”
Each speaker at tonight’s event will be invited to grip that gold hand or knock on the wood pedestal. After the closing video salute to Rene, the audience also will be invited onstage to briefly touch the hand.
About 1,200 people are expected in the theater for tonight’s gathering. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m., and before the ceremony begins at 7, the audience will walk into the music of Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold.”
Ennio Morricone The Ecstasy of Gold
Onstage will be Rene’s younger and only brother, Andre Angelil, his only daughter Anne-Marie Angelil, his son Jean-Pierre Angelil, his first son Patrick Angelil, Rene-Charles Angelil (who turned 15 on Jan. 25) and Celine.
I am deeply honored to be invited to introduce the family, then turn over the speaker introductions to Patrick. In between speeches, there will be eight musical interludes performed by Scott Price, musical director of Celine’s show, and musicians Philippe Dunnigan, Lindsay Spriger, Dmitri Kourka and Jennifer Erikkson.
The speakers in order of appearance will include Caesars Palace President Gary Selesner; AEG President John Meglen; show director and Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich; Las Vegas Review-Journal entertainment columnist Norm Clarke; record producer, writer and musician David Foster; A&R Vice President of Columbia Records/Sony Music John Doelp; and Caesars Interactive CEO Mitch Garber, who also is the new chairman of Cirque du Soleil.
Also, Opportunity Village chief development officer Linda Smith; Caesars Entertainment board Chairman Gary Loveman; Business Affairs Director Paul Farberman; Celine’s first and only agent for North America, Rob Prinz from ICM; former Caesars Palace President Mark Juliano, who is now president of Sands Bethlehem Casino in Pennsylvania; and former Sony Canada executive Dave Platel.
David Foster, who was instrumental in the beginning of Celine’s international English career that Rene had always envisioned, will play at the piano “The Color of My Love,” which he performed at Celine and Rene’s wedding reception in Montreal in December 1994. Celine dedicated it to Rene.
Celine Dion and Rene Angelil
In the program notes, Ken Ehrlich has written: “Rene, I write this to you because you are not gone, you are still with us. You are with us in the eyes of all of your children. You are with us in the continuing wisdom that you have passed on to those children and your myriad friends who can’t think of you without smiling. You are with us in the rich legacy of Celine’s career.
“Most of all, you are still with us in the inseparable love that will forever exist between you and Celine, a love that above all material accomplishments will stand as singular among love stories. Rene, you are still with us and always will be. This is not goodbye. Just a temporary au revoir until we meet again.”
I will continue those thoughts as the last speaker just before an expected message from Celine. The family will then depart, and after the video salute the audience will line up to say “au revoir, mon ami” while at the spotlighted hand.
Whereas Rene orchestrated all the details of his wake and funeral in Montreal on Jan. 21 and 22 to ease Celine’s grief, the only request he made for this “Celebration of Life” ceremony was the use of his favorite portrait of himself and photo of Celine and him embracing, both of which are in the program and in this story.
For tonight’s event, Celine has overseen all the details and wants to maintain a low profile in the tribute: “It’s all about Rene and all for him,” she has said.
Rene’s friend Stephane Laporte has written for the tribute: “Never has one love counted for as much in someone’s life as the love Rene has for Celine and the love Celine has for Rene. The lover is no longer with us. The love, however, is forever here. His love is everywhere.
“Rene does not demand respect. He does better — he offers it. Because the most respected man in show business is the one who most respects others. His genius is in thinking of everything. Rene arrives in heaven. An eternal leader, he has gone to check out the other side, to see if everything is all right. And if it isn’t, it will be when we meet him again, that’s for sure.”
Celine’s note in the program, a duplicate of what she wrote for the Montreal funeral, is simple, yet very moving: “I understand that my career was in a way his masterpiece, his song, his symphony. The idea of leaving it unfinished would have hurt him terribly. I realized that if he ever left us, I would have to continue without him for him.”
Celine will resume her performances as of Feb. 23 at Caesars. I’m told: “It is what Rene wanted. She knew that. She will do it for him. It will be her way of finding strength to cope with his loss, and performing their music will be when she’s in the best frame of mind. It’s her life to perform. It’s what she does best, and she will be doing it for Rene.”