MONTREAL – Benoit Gendron had 192 reasons for heading to the Notre-Dame Basilica on Thursday to pay his final respects to Rene Angelil, Celine Dion’s longtime manager and husband.
That’s the number of times the Montreal-area resident has seen Dion in concert.
“Maybe I wouldn’t have had the same life had it not been for Rene because I travelled around the world to see Celine,” said Gendron, who comes from Saint-Hubert.
”I based my vacations on where she was playing.”
Gendron wasn’t taking any chances Thursday: he arrived at the stately church at 6 a.m., some eight hours before the open-casket viewing began.
He was joined by several hundred people who wanted to say goodbye to the man who began overseeing Dion’s career in the 1980s and married her at the basilica in 1994.
Angelil, who died from throat cancer on Jan. 14 just two days short of his 74th birthday, will have his funeral on Friday afternoon.
Dion was accompanied by Angelil’s two adult sons from his previous marriages and stood by the coffin to greet the long lineup of people.
The singer, who wore a belted black dress, gloves and small face veil, occasionally wiped away tears as she accepted condolences. Some people kissed her or took her in their arms before an order was issued to no longer kiss her.
Angelil lay exposed in a dark casket surrounded by bouquets of red and white lilies.
One of the mourners was Tamara Sparks, who praised Dion’s strength.
“She said her heart will go on and I think that will happen here,” Sparks said. ”His spirit will go on and the legacy will be great and she will be OK.”
Shakira Katz had a personal reason for attending the viewing.
”Since I’m a cancer survivor myself, I’m lucky that I’m still here today and it’s so sad, what they’re going through,” Katz said.
“I want to let them know to be strong and that there’s a lot of support out there in the cancer community.”
Dion, 47, did not speak to reporters but mourners were given a postcard-sized photo of Angelil with the following words from the singer on the other side:
”I understood that my career was in a way his masterpiece, his song, his symphony,” Dion said. ”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.”
Dion and Angelil had three children — Rene-Charles, who was born in 2001, and twins Nelson and Eddy, who arrived in 2010.
While most Quebecers knew Angelil only for his personal and professional relationship with Dion, he was known to a generation for being in a band called Les Baronets in the 1960s. When it dissolved in the early ’70s, he teamed up with friend Guy Cloutier to manage several up-and-coming Quebec artists including Rene Simard and Ginette Reno.
He later struck out on his own and in 1981 received an audio tape in the mail from Dion’s mother, who encouraged him to ”listen to it carefully. It’s my 12-year-old daughter.”
Struck by her voice, Angelil quickly took her under his wing.
He gave Dion an image makeover when she turned 18 and launched her first English-language album — ”Unison” — in 1990, which established her as an international pop star.
A celebration of Angelil’s life will take place Feb. 3 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
Dion is also dealing with another tragedy in the family — her brother Daniel Dion died of cancer two days after Angelil.
His funeral is set for Monday, just outside Montreal in the family’s hometown of Charlemagne.