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Celine Dion: Rene hopes to 'die in my arms'

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 8/24/2015 Marco della Cava

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LAS VEGAS — For Celine Dion, her year-long hiatus from a lucrative Las Vegas residency at Caesars Palace was all about making the right choices in life.

Now, after caring for her husband, René Angélil, 73, who continues to battle throat cancer, she's returning to the Strip for another extended run that starts Aug. 27. That, too, was the right choice, she says — because Angelil insisted his wife return to what she loves.

"I didn't want to be here at first, I don't need it. Don't get me wrong, I love singing for people, but I have priorities," Dion, 47, tells USA TODAY.

"But René really gave me a gift," she says. "All my grieving, it was during this last year. I think I've got this. For now. When it hits me, it's going to hit me. But my biggest job is to tell my husband, we're fine. I'll take care of our kids. You'll watch us from another spot."

During the course of an often-intense talk Sunday, Dion emotes grand statements and aching sentiments.

What comes through clearly is that her partner of many decades — Dion met Angélil when she was 12, and he later became her manager and, in 1994, her husband — is battling for his life. After a series of procedures in Boston hospitals, he is now living at the family's Las Vegas home. He has been fed intravenously for two years, Dion says.

"We have asked (doctors) many times, how long does he have, three weeks, three months? René wants to know," she says. "But they say they don't know."

The couple's eldest son, René-Charles, 14, is fast becoming "the man of my life," although he often finds it difficult to see his father in such poor health, she says. In contrast, the couple's 4-year-old fraternal twins, Nelson and Eddy, "don't know their father in any other state, and I'll say 'Come on, let's go feed Dad,' and they'll come along with me."

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The past months have been filled with many emotional conversations between Dion and the man she calls "the only boyfriend I've ever had." The singer says her default approach is to be strong, but sometimes Angélil "needs something more sensitive than that, more than just positivity. Sometimes he just wants me to enter into a different place with him."

Dion's voice gets soft. "I'll say, 'You're scared? I understand. Talk to me about it.'" She pauses. "And René says to me, 'I want to die in your arms.' OK, fine, I'll be there, you'll die in my arms."

Dion says she has dutifully taken notes during talks in which Angélil has spelled out the details of his funeral service. 

"Don't forget, he's been the leader of the band all my life," she says, having masterminded her career to the tune of 220 million albums sold. "So it (hacks) him off to not see me all day and over here working. But he wants me to do this, do the show, do the interviews. But he freaks when I'm not home with him, too."

She isn't sure if Angélil will make an appearance at her show's debut Thursday, and if he can't, he'll watch a live feed back at the house.

"That first show, it will be fragile," she says, dabbing at her eyes. "There will be moments. Of emptiness, laughter, awkwardness, tearing up. But that's the point of coming back — otherwise, I just release an album."

For Dion, hitting the stage again is less about singing and more about showing her husband that she has his back.

"When you see someone who is fighting so hard, it has a big impact on you," she says. "You have two choices. You look at your husband who's very sick and you can't help, and it kills you. Or you look at your husband that's sick and you say, 'I got you. I got it. I'm here. It's going to be just fine.'

"You can have your shaking knees at the end, but when someone you love falls and needs help, it's not time to cry," she says. "Afterwards, sure. But not yet."

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