At age 10, Céline Dion, the youngest of 14 children, persuades her parents, butcher Adhémar and housewife Thérèse, to let her perform in the piano bar they open just outside of Montreal. "She'd say, 'I'm going to go out on tour and be the biggest singer in the world,'" her brother Jacques recalls to PEOPLE two decades later of his sister's big dream.
Dion records her first song, "It Was Only a Dream" (penned by her brother Jacques and her mom Thérèse), which Jacques sends to René Angélil, a local manager-producer. Angélil calls the 12-year-old singer in for an audition. "While I was singing he started to cry. I knew then I had done a good job," Dion tells PEOPLE of her fateful meeting with Angélil, who mortgages his house to fund her 1981 debut album, La Voix du Bon Dieu.
Now famous in Canada and France, the French-language singer, who quits school to focus on her career, has her sights set on becoming a star Stateside. With Angélil's encouragement, Dion learns English and refines her look, including capping her teeth. It was, as Dion's mother later tells PEOPLE, "her transformation from adolescence to a young woman."
With eight French-language albums under her belt, Dion wins the coveted Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, Ireland. The event proves fateful in more ways than one: It fast-tracks an English-language record deal for Dion, and marks the turning point in the 20-year-old singer's relationship with the twice-divorced Angélil, 46. "My whole body shook for half an hour," Dion tells PEOPLE of her first kiss with Angélil. "Then he called me and said, 'Are you okay? I'm sorry.' I said, 'No! No! Are you kidding?' It was magic."
Dion releases her English-language debut Unison in America, where her single "Where Does My Heart Beat Now" hits the top 10. But the budding star truly goes global with her 1992 duet with Peabo Bryson on "Beauty and the Beast" – the theme to the Disney film – which wins her both an Oscar and a Grammy.
Dion's secret romance with Angélil goes public when she professes her love in the liner notes of The Colour of My Love. "When you're in love," she explains to PEOPLE, "you want to scream it to the world.'' On Dec. 17, Dion, 26, marries Angélil, 52, in a lavish fairy-tale wedding at Montreal's Notre Dame Basilica. "Keeping her happy is my job," the groom says of his wife and client.
Dion's album Falling Into You – bolstered by the single "Because You Loved Me" – goes on to sell a staggering 10.8 million copies and earns Dion her second and third Grammys for best pop album and album of the year.
Titanic director James Cameron didn't initially want a ballad for his disaster-romance, but after hearing Dion's demo of "My Heart Will Go On," he changes his mind. The Grammy- and Oscar-winning track shoots to No. 1, appearing on both her multi-platinum solo CD Let's Talk About Love as well as the Titanic album. "I must be doing something right," Dion deadpans to PEOPLE in 1990, a time when industry insiders estimate her fortune at more than $200 million.
When Angélil is diagnosed with throat cancer, Dion takes a career hiatus. "René needed me with what he's been through, and I felt good about it," she later tells PEOPLE. "I can do something good, not only through music, but…I can be his wife. I can make a difference in his life." During Angélil's treatment, Dion simultaneously undergoes fertility procedures, including in vitro fertilization. After 38 rounds of chemo, Angélil gets a clean bill of health, while Dion announces she's having a baby.
At age 32, Dion fulfills a lifelong dream, becoming a mother to son René-Charles, who the new mom says, "is the extension of the love (René and I) have for each other ...René-Charles is everything that we have accomplished together." The singer chronicles the highs and lows of her fertility journey in her best-selling memoir, Céline Dion: My Story, My Dream.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Courtesy Feeling Productions; Getty; Jim Smeal/WireImage; Ponopresse/REX USA; Jon Levy/Getty; Vince Bucci/Getty; SGranitz/WireImage; Abaca