July 19, 2002 -- Two years ago, Celine Dion — who many believe has the most beautiful voice in the world — dropped a bombshell. At the height of her career, after selling 100 million albums, she was giving it all up for at least two years.
She wanted to have a normal life, and she desperately wanted to have a baby, she told me in an interview.
Well, just about a year-and-a-half ago, Dion and her husband, René Angelil, had a baby boy: René-Charles.
Now Dion, 34, has gone back to work — but with very different decisions about her future. She's set to release a second single from her new album A New Day Has Come, which has sold 7 million copies worldwide — and what a new day it has been for her.
Life of a Legend
There were people who said, "She's never going to stop." But Dion knew it was time. "I needed to stop. I needed a balance in my life," she told me in an interview conducted near her Florida home. "I wanted a normal life at one point. I wanted to be home."
But for most of her life, nothing has been average for Dion. Her life is the stuff of legend.
"I've never had a normal life," she said.
The youngest of 14 children, she grew up in a poor but loving French Canadian family. She wasn't pretty, but her voice, as they said, made angels weep.
When she was 12, Dion's mother took her to record producer Angelil, who took a gamble when he recognized her talent. He mortgaged his house to finance her career, and over the years transformed the awkward little girl with pointy teeth into an international superstar.
When Dion was only 20 and Angelil 46, the singer fell in love with her manager. A few years later they were married in a lavish, almost royal wedding televised across Canada.
When Dion learned English, her magnificent voice catapulted her into mega-stardom. Her fans adored her, and hit after hit followed, culminating in the 1997 blockbuster theme song from Titanic, "My Heart Will Go On."
Triumph and Crisis
Then two years ago, Dion shocked the entertainment world when she announced she was suspending her career to try to have a child.
She conceived through in vitro fertilization. "I know a lot of people went probably through experiences like us, wanting to have a child, going through tests and in vitro and all that," said Dion, who was fortunate to become pregnant with just one try.
But while she was trying to have a baby, her husband was diagnosed with throat cancer.
"René needed me with what he's been through," said Dion. "And I felt good about it. I can do something good, not only through music, but I can be a woman at home. I can be his wife. I can make a difference in his life."
Though Dion had known Angelil as her manager for years, she wanted to get to know him as her husband — and caring for him during his cancer treatment made that happen.
"I felt the difference very much so," she said, "because when he got sick and he came to me and he said … 'I love you, but now I need you.' "
It has almost been three years since Angelil was first diagnosed, and Dion said he is doing well. "He's fighting every day. But I think René-Charles is helping him a lot."
Their son, she said, "is the extension of the love we have for each other … René-Charles is everything that we have accomplished together."
She loves to watch her husband and son interact. "They love each other so much," she said. "And for me to see the two men in my life loving each other like that is the biggest reward."
Coming Back — On Her Own Terms
So why is she coming back now?
"Because I'm happiest now," she told me. "I think I'm a grown up a little more … What do you want me to do after the Titanic, and after the world tour and after doing the stadiums … I'm good with my nightgown and pajamas at home with René-Charles, playing with the toys. I feel great."
Now, she said, "I have it all."
For almost 20 years, Dion toured the world, singing to as many as 90,000 fans. Now the artist will let the fans come to her: No more touring. In a deal that will net Dion close to $100 million, and allow her to be both a performer and mother, she recently signed an unprecedented three-year contract to sing five nights a week at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, starting next year.
"I can play with my child all day at home," she said. "Mommy's going to leave home around 6 at night and the show will be at 8:30."
It will be quite an extravaganza: 200 shows a year in a replica of the Roman Coliseum built especially for her.
And after her Vegas run, Dion and Angelil plan to have another baby, using a remaining frozen embryo.
"We will definitely give it a try. It doesn't mean it will work," she said. "We'll see."
Though her husband is 60, Dion said she's not concerned about his age. "What's important to us, it's happiness and quality time. I wouldn't change anything about René: his age, his skin, his heart, his past," she said.
Rumors and Resolve
But in Angelil's past, according to tabloid reports, he has lost millions of dollars gambling. Numerous stories allege that the problem is serious.
"René's a gambler. Of course he is. And I'm glad he is … Because he mortgaged his house to make me do my first album when I was 12 years old," said Dion. "That's probably the biggest gamble he's ever done."
As for rumors that he has lost $10 million, Dion said, "The truth is, it's not true."
"He's a gambler, but he's smarter," she added. And when they move to Las Vegas, she said, "He's going to play. I would like him to enjoy himself. But we're going to organize ourselves. We're going to have the money to play. We're going to put this aside, and he's going to play that money … It's like me with the shopping."
In the meantime, she'll not only get back into the spotlight, but will also continue singing to her little boy … though it's not always so easy to please him.
"There's specific songs that I can sing to him, and other things that I can't because he cries," she said. "When I sing with all my heart and my soul lullabies, he cries."
Written with Alan B. Goldberg.
This story was originally broadcast on Feb. 1, 2002.