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Five impactful moments in Celine Dion's new documentary 'I Am'

Singer Celine Dion is seen in a still image handout from the film "I Am: Celine Dion". THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Amazon MGM Studios, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

TORONTO — Celine Dion has bared her soul on stage for most of her life, but her new documentary reveals a previously unseen side of the famed Québécois singer.

Amid her struggle with stiff person syndrome, "I Am: Celine Dion" offers an unflinching look at the 56-year-old's private life as she manages the rare neurological disorder that can cause muscle rigidity and severe spasms, as well as affect her ability to perform.

Ahead of its release on Amazon's Prime Video streaming service June 25, here are five impactful and insightful moments from the documentary:

COMING CLEAN: As Dion pledges she will return to concert stages one day, she also confesses that she wasn't always honest with her fans while she struggled with her health. Show cancellations blamed on seemingly common illnesses were actually due to her more serious ailment, she now says. Other times, she shrugged off signs of her body failing on stage as mere vocal fumbles. "There were moments where I cheated and tapped on the microphone like it was the microphone's fault. I did what my mom said, I didn't flinch," she recalls. Ultimately, she knew the truth would win: "The lie is too heavy now."

ANOTHER LIFE: In a lighter moment, Dion jokingly reflects on the strict diet and lifestyle regimen that kept her powerful voice in shape since she was a teenager. She describes how sometimes that's left her envious of rock stars who haven't been quite as disciplined. "They drink, they party and they don't sleep. They're super cool people. And they just like — they go to a bar and have a good time," she explains while miming an air guitar. "Me, I have like, water. And I sleep 12 hours."

HER VOICE: Knowing how much effort she's put into protecting her vocal cords makes it all the more devastating to hear Dion explain how she desperately tried to regain control as her body deteriorated. "My instrument was not working, so we started to elevate the medicine," she says in one scene as she details how she began to take higher and higher doses of Valium. "I needed medicine to function. One more pill, two more pills, five more pills. Too many pills. The show must go on." She adds: "I don't want to sound dramatic, but I could have died."

BEARING FRUIT: While reflecting on the pressures of her career, and the considerable weight she feels the illness has put on her shoulders, Dion likens herself to an apple tree where people line up to seek sustenance. "I give them apples — the best — and I shine them. And they all leave with a basket of apples," she says. "My branches are starting to fall sometimes. Get crooked. And those branches are starting to produce a little less apples. But there's still many people in line. I don't want them to wait in line if I don't have apples for them."

LOSING CONTROL: In the film's climactic moment, the cameras capture a spasm in her left foot that escalates into a crippling full-body attack on Dion. "Her body and her brain is overstimulated," her sports medicine therapist Terrill Lobo explains early in the scene. "It could lead to a crisis." Within minutes, Dion is curled up on an examination table with tears in her eyes as her medical team tends to her body as it twitches uncontrollably. "Every time something like this happens, it makes you feel so embarrassed," she says after it passes. She worries about what could happen if she returned to the stage and an adoring crowd inadvertently triggers the same reaction.

Before the night is over, Dion is back in form. Standing in the same room where her attack took place, she cranks up the speakers on a mobile phone and sings along to the soaring ballad "Who I Am" by Wyn Starks. "What a song," she sighs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2024.

David Friend, The Canadian Press

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