Remembering Rene: 'He was always incredibly ambitious'

Brendan Kelly says that when he first met Rene Angelil and Celine Dion, the young songstress could barely speak a word of English.

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The Montreal Gazette entertainment reporter remembers Angelil telling him at the time that Dion was going to one day be "the biggest star in the world."

"You hear that a lot," Kelly told CTV News Channel on Friday. "You know what? It turned out to be true."

Angelil died on Jan. 14 following a long battle with cancer.

He will be remembered on Friday during a national funeral at Montreal's Notre-Dame Basilica, where 21 years ago he married Dion in an elaborate ceremony.

Kelly said while Dion had the raw talent, she likely wouldn't have become the star that she is today without Angelil.

"To break out of French Quebec for a francophone artist who could barely speak English, it is very, very hard," Kelly said. "Rene was the one who opened those doors. He was always incredibly ambitious.”

***

Angelil's long-time friend and former Montreal Expos broadcaster Rodger Brulotte described him as someone who always wanted to win.

The two would often put money on the table before playing a game of golf.

"Whether it was for $10 or $100, it was always the same argument. He wanted to win," Brulotte said. "It was the same with Celine, he wanted her to be number one."

Brulotte said Dion was able to establish herself as an international pop star "because Rene was able to sell her."

"When they worked together, it was outstanding," he said.

***

Frank Silva remembers the first time he spotted Rene Angelil at Montreal's famous deli, Schwartz's, 25 years ago.

At the time Silva was a server at the popular eatery, and he recalls being "in awe" of the music manager.

"He shared with total strangers, he talked to everyone," Silva, now the restaurant's general manager, told CTV News Channel on Friday.

Silva said Angelil was a regular at Schwartz's. He liked the food so much that in 2012, when the opportunity presented itself, he became a co-owner of the smoked-meat restaurant.

"The day he bought the restaurant, he phoned me up and thanked me for staying on as a general manager,” Silva said. β€œHe called me from Vegas."

When he would visit Schwartz's, Silva said Angelil would be sure to pop into the kitchen to speak to the dishwashers, the busboys and the servers.

"He was a very humble, real person," Silva said. "He loved life, loved food. He was just a great Quebecer."



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