Inside Céline Dion's Rare Health Battle

Céline Dion's surprise appearance at the 2024 Grammys was a moment of gold after a year of troubling health news from the singer's corner as she battled stiff person syndrome.

By Natalie Finn Mar 30, 2024 7:00 AMTags
Watch: Céline Dion’s Rare Public Appearance Shocks the Crowd 2024 GRAMMYs

Standing ovations aren't that rare at the Grammys, but the thunderous applause for Céline Dion on Feb. 4 seemed to go on and on.

Because they love her, yes, but also because it was just such a relief to see the French-Canadian singer, escorted by her eldest son René-Charles Dion Angélil, in person.

"I love you right back," Dion, elegant in a mustard overcoat by Valentino, told the audience as she took the stage to present the final award of the night. "When I say that I'm happy to be here, I really mean it from my heart."

Dare we say, her appearance—27 years after winning Album of the Year for Let's Talk About Love, one of her five Grammys—even overshadowed Taylor Swift making history by becoming the first artist to win Album of the Year four times. (Swift seemingly disregarding Dion as she made her way to the microphone raised a few eyebrows, too, but all was made right after they had a moment together backstage.)

Céline Dion's Sweet Moments With Her Kids

Dion, who's turning 56 on March 30, was spotted out Nov. 1, her first public appearance in months, when she took the sons she shared with late husband René Angélil—René-Charles, 23, and his 13-year-old twin brothers Nelson and Eddy—to watch the NHL's Montreal Canadiens take on the Las Vegas Knights.

Vegas has been the singer's home base in the U.S. since she began her first residency at Caesars Palace in 2003, and she returned to the arena—this time to catch the Edmonton Oilers—on Feb. 6.

But going to the Grammys in L.A. marked her most significant step back toward the spotlight since she shared in December 2022 that she'd been diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder called stiff-person syndrome.

The fans who have rallied around Dion through the best and worst of times, including the loss of her husband to throat cancer in 2016, haven't budged and are eager to see what's next for the artist, who's been on the world stage since releasing her debut album La voix du bon Dieu at 13. To date, she's released 16 French-language albums and 12 in English, the most recent being 2019's Courage.

Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Yet even getting to where she was standing on that Grammys stage, the consummate professional poised as ever despite the palpable emotion coursing through the whole venue, has been a journey. We're tracing back from where Dion started with her diagnosis to where she is now and why she wants to share her story in an upcoming documentary:

April 29, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic had forced Céline Dion to press pause on her Courage World Tour in 2020 and she was looking forward to getting back on the road in 2022. But that spring the singer said she'd be postponing her return until February 2023 while she continued to deal with a lingering health issue.

A note on her website further explained that she'd been treated for "severe and persistent muscle spasms which are preventing her from performing, and her recovery is taking longer than she hoped."

Dion said in a statement, "I need to be in top shape when I'm on stage. I honestly can't wait, but I'm just not there yet… I'm doing my very best to get back to the level that I need to be so that I can give 100 percent at my shows because that's what you deserve."

Dec. 8, 2022

Dion shared that she had been diagnosed with a "very rare" progressive neurological disorder called stiff-person syndrome, surely the first time that most people had ever heard of it.

"As you know, I've always been an open book," she said in an Instagram video. "I wasn't ready to say anything before, but I'm ready now. I've been dealing with problems with my health for a long time, and it's been really difficult for me to face these challenges and to talk about everything that I've been going through."

She suffered muscle spasms that affected "every aspect" of her daily life, Dion explained, making it difficult to walk sometimes and, saddest of all, it was going to be impossible for her to go back on tour as she'd been planning.

"I'm working hard with my sports medicine therapist every day to build back my strength and my ability to perform again," Dion said. "But I have to admit, it's been a struggle."

According to the National Institutes of Health, symptoms include stiff muscles in the torso, arms, and legs, and greater sensitivity to noise, touch, and emotional distress, all of which can trigger muscle spasms.

April 13, 2023

Who says you can't have some new Céline Dion music when you least expect it? 

She had previously recorded five songs for the rom-com Love Again, and the title track dropped ahead of the film's May 5 release. "I think it's a wonderful feel-good story, and I hope that people will like it, and like the new songs too," stated Dion, who also appeared as herself in the movie starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Sam Heughan.

Dion already had several signature movie tracks to her name—"Beauty and the Beast," "Because You Loved Me" and the Oscar-winning Titanic anthem "My Heart Will Go On"—but somehow she had never been in a movie before. (You can check out her debut in this one on Netflix.)

May 2023

After a three-month delay, Dion canceled her Courage World Tour entirely through April 2024.

"I'm so sorry to disappoint all of you once again," she wrote on Instagram. "I'm working really hard to build back my strength, but touring can be very difficult even when you're 100 percent. It's not fair to you to keep postponing the shows, and even though it breaks my heart, it's best that we cancel everything now until I'm really ready to be back on stage again."

Oct. 30, 2023

Dion was seen out in a very public place for the first time since she shared her diagnosis when she caught a Las Vegas Knights hockey game at T-Mobile Arena with her and late husband René Angélil's three sons, René-Charles, 23, and twins Eddy and Nelson, 13.

The Montreal Canadiens shared footage of the family's meet-and-greet in the visiting team's locker room, Dion telling coach Martin St. Louis (per an English translation) that it had been "an incredible night." She even gave the players a pep talk, advising, "Just stay healthy, what you do best."

But better yet, according to Canadiens executive Chantal Machabée, their VIP guest sang "a few notes" for them and it was "an incredible moment."

"She's been through a lot, and to see her like this and smiling and being so's amazing," the team's VP of hockey communications told People. "I know she has good days and not so good days, but this was a very good day, and it was reassuring."

December 2023

Claudette Dion gave a rather dire-sounding update on her sister's health battle, telling 7 Jours (translated from the original French) that the singer—who's the youngest of 14 siblings—didn't have control over her muscles.

"What breaks my heart is that she's always been disciplined," Dion's big sister said. "She's always worked hard. Our mother always told her, 'You're going to do it well, you're going to do it properly.'"

The former judge on Quebec's L'Étoile des aînés (a competition for singers 65 and older) said it was her and Dion's dream that the singer would be able to return to the stage. "In what capacity?" she added. "I don't know."

Jan. 30, 2024

The most promising sign yet that a new day had begun: Dion, who had understandably chosen to take a step back from public life while she battled her condition, was getting ready to give a raw look at what she was going through. 

Amazon announced the upcoming documentary I Am: Céline Dion, directed by Irene Taylor, would reveal the lengths Dion had been going to in hopes she could go back to doing what she loved.

"As the road to resuming my performing career continues, I have realized how much I have missed it, of being able to see my fans," Dion said in a statement, explaining why once more she was opening the door. "During this absence, I decided I wanted to document this part of my life, to try to raise awareness of this little-known condition, to help others who share this diagnosis."

Feb. 4, 2024

The 2024 Grammys may have ended with a few more people believing in the power of love.

As soon as Dion was announced as the night's final presenter (after social media got wind of her presence elsewhere in the building, but still), the audience was on its feet.

The five-time Grammy winner may not have been ready for a spotlight performance on music's biggest night just yet, but she did sing a few bars with Sonyaé Elise backstage, the "Collide" artist sharing the moment on Instagram afterward amid other highlights from her "ICONIC night."

Dion and Taylor Swift also shared an off-stage hug, silencing the immediate uproar over Swift seemingly not paying proper homage to the elder legend onstage when Dion presented her with Album of the Year for Midnights. Not wanting to be an anti-hero on her history-making night, Swift posed for pics with Dion and René-Charles, who had sweetly escorted his mom to the microphone.

Dion also shared some highlights from the icons-only portion of the evening, including photos with Stevie Wonder and Oprah Winfrey.

Celebrating the momentous night with Dion was her longtime stylist Law Roach, who dressed the star in a flowy Valentino dress and striking overcoat, with Tiffany & Co. diamonds upping the sparkle factor.

"This makes me so much Joy!" he captioned a next-day Instagram snap with Dion. "Not just to dress my Queen again but the fact that she's HEALTHY AND HAPPY! The UNIVERSE always PROTECTS and PROVIDES."

April 2024

After a March trip to Boston, where she watched the Bruins take on the New York Rangers at TD Garden, Dion gave an update on her health to Vogue France.

She was still learning to live with stiff-person syndrom, she shared in the article published April 22, but was working her butt off with athletic, physical and vocal therapy five days a week to not let it defeat her.

"The way I see it, I have two choices," Dion said. "Either I train like an athlete and work super hard, or I switch off and it's over, I stay at home, listen to my songs, stand in front of my mirror and sing to myself."

(Originally published Feb. 10, 2024, at 4:30 a.m. PT)