René Angélil: Not just a manager of Céline Dion

Many fans knew René Angélil as the husband and longtime former manager of Céline Dion, but he had other accomplishments aside from managing the career of the pop diva.

Talent agent was an avid poker player, former boy band member

René Angélil managed the career of Céline Dion for more than 30 years, but was also committed to other business ventures. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

René Angélil, the man who transformed Céline Dion from little-known teen francophone chanteuse to international pop superstar, died Thursday at the age of 73.

Many fans knew him as Dion's husband and longtime former manager.

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But Angélil had other accomplishments aside from managing the career of the pop diva.

1. Boy band member

René Angélil sang in a group called Les Baronets in the 1960s. (Radio-Canada archives)

Before he became the man behind the powerhouse vocalist, Angélil had his first brush with the spotlight on stage.

"He had quite a life in the '60s. He was in a group called Les Baronets, where he would take British Invasion songs and Beatles songs and make them in French," said CBC arts columnist Brendan Kelly.

2. As a restaurateur

Schwartz's Deli is famous for its smoked meat sandwiches.

Angélil became co-owner of Montreal's famous Schwartz's Deli in 2012.

"I have so many great memories of being there with the guys and with Céline and our families throughout the years. It's the most unique restaurant in the world, and we're thrilled to be a part of it," Angélil had said at the time in a written statement.

Angélil and Dion were also partners in Nickels, a chain of retro 1950s diners that sell mostly fast foods.

3. Poker pro

Angélil plays a hand at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas in July 2006. (Laura Rauch/Associated Press)

Angélil was an avid poker player. He qualified for several high-level tournaments, including the World Series of Poker, which he took part in during the summer of 2006 in Las Vegas. In 2007, he walked away from the World Poker Tour with prize money. 

4. Promoting other artists

Besides managing Dion's career, Angélil was involved in helping other artists get discovered.

He collaborated with Quebec City promoter Richard Samson to help push the careers of jazz group The Lost Fingers and singer-songwriter Jonathan Roy (son of Habs legend Patrick Roy).

Angélil was also a director of Star Académie, a talent show in Quebec similar to American Idol.

5. 'Down-to-earth', even as a superstar

Trevor Payne, founder of the Montreal Jubilation Choir, remembers Angélil as 'generous, kind, and gifted' from the day they met in 1964. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Montreal Jubilation Choir founder Trevor Payne,who has known Angélil since 1964, remembers him as "generous, kind, and gifted," adding "there was no change in René from the very first day when we met to the last time I was in communication with him."

Even as Angélil and Dion became cultural icons, Payne, whose choir has backed Dion in concert, said "backstage, out of the eye of the general public, they were the kindest, most down-to-earth, superstars that I've ever known in my entire career."

"Once they decided that you were what they wanted as part of the show — whether you were making the sandwiches or backing them on stage — it made no difference. Everyone was equal, everyone was important, and they went out of their way to drive that home to everyone."


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