The year was circa 2004. I was living in LA and won (in a silent auction) primo tickets to see Celine Dion at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. I grabbed a couple of gal pals (including Arty Chick) and we made our way to Vegas to see Celine. As expected, her voice was amazing. She belted out power ballad after power ballad (My Heart Will Go On; The Power of Love; It’s All Coming Back to Me; Because You Love Me…) The only drawback to the spectacular production, as I recall, was her lilting anecdotes between songs. They came off really cheesy. Now, after watching the new documentary I AM: CELINE DION, I realize she was just being Celine. The voice– and the compulsion to share– were a package deal. And that makes her current situation all the more heartbreaking. Her voice guided her life, and a debilitating illness stole that from her.

The documentary offers a raw, honest, make-up free look at her struggle with a rare illness called Stiff Person Syndrome that can cause rigidity, difficulty breathing (let alone singing), and spasms. Dion officially revealed her diagnosis in late 2022 because she wanted/needed her millions of fans worldwide to understand why she was canceling concerts and declining interviews. The documentary project was already in the works– originally intended to be a more traditional biographical, concert-fueled narrative brimming with high notes. Instead, it’s a very sad watch.

The overall construct of the documentary is a mess. You have to have some familiarity with Celine’s persona, family situation, and songs to make sense of the patchwork of clips bridging the medical-crisis scenes. I occasionally tuned out watching the doc but did stick with it– mostly out of respect for Dion’s decades of musical accomplishment, and partly out of morbid curiosity about what ails her. Sadly, Stiff Person Syndrome robbed Celine Dion of her effusive vocal performance power, and consequently robbed fans of the chance to see, and sing along to, a vibrant behind-the-scenes concert documentary, complete with cheesy dialogue. Hopefully we’ll get that version someday.

I AM: CELINE DION is streaming globally on Prime Video.

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