The Tragic Reason Celine Dion Stopped Performing

Canadian singer Celine Dion is one of the world's most popular musical artists, with 14 studio albums in a row topping the Billboard charts. Though best known for her power ballads — in particular "My Heart Will Go On," the feature song of the 1997 movie "Titanic" which remains one of the best selling singles of all time — Dion has incorporated a wide range of influences into her sprawling discography, and demonstrated her unique vocal dexterity. Her live shows, which include several lucrative world tours, are also acclaimed by fans and critics.

Most singers of Dion's stature continue their careers into old age, continuing to perform their classics with increased vocal maturity. But at the start of 2022 it appeared that Dion's career may be prematurely over in her mid-fifties, as she was forced to cancel a string of North American dates on her Courage World Tour amid reports that she was dealing with ill health. At the time, all that was known of Dion's condition was that she was suffering from muscle spasms, and that her recovery time had taken longer than hoped. She announced further postponements in April.

The news was a blow to fans, as the dates had already been rescheduled once as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. All they could do was wait for updates, but sadly, Dion's condition turned out to me more serious than first thought.

A heartbreaking update

In December 2022, after nearly a year of speculation concerning Celine Dion's health and when she would finally be able to complete her highly anticipated Courage World Tour, the singer finally made a public announcement concerning her health. Taking to social media, Dion gave an update in which she finally revealed what doctors had learned of her condition — and the tragic consequences for Dion's career.

"As you know, I've always been an open book. And I wasn't ready to say anything before. But I'm ready now," said an evidently emotional Dion. "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 ... Recently, I've been diagnosed with a very rare neurological disorder called stiff-person syndrome, which affects something like one in a million people. While we're still learning about this rare condition, we now know this is what's been causing all of the spasms I've been having."

Dion explained that her condition meant the cancellation of more shows, and that her treatment would continue on for the foreseeable future. She expressed gratitude that she has her family's support, as well as a fine medical team working with her every day of her recovery, though she is also open about the toll that her health issues have taken. "I have to admit, it's been a struggle," she added. "All I know is singing, it's what I've done all my life, and it's what I love to do the most. I miss you so much."

What is stiff-person syndrome?

As Celine Dion noted in her announcement regarding her health, stiff-person syndrome is very rare, and it is likely that few of her fans would have heard of the condition before. So what is it, and what is the outlook for the beloved singer as she attempts to rebuild her health following what by now has been years of illness?

Stiff-person syndrome, commonly referred to as SPS, is a neurological condition that is so rare it is often misdiagnosed as other more common maladies such as Parkinson's disease or fibromyalgia. It is characterized by muscle spasms in the torso and arms, a symptom of many neurological issues. However, one major difference among SPS patients is that their symptoms can be triggered by outside stimuli, including sounds, physical contact, and stress. It is no surprise, then, that Dion has been forced to cancel several live performances, with large scale concerts often demanding a great physical toll on a performer's body, as well as meaning sensory overload night after night.

The disease is often treated with anti-anxiety medication and muscle relaxants, such as diazepam, though courses of antibodies administered intravenously have also been effective, according to a study carried out by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Dion has revealed that her rehabilitation has included physical therapy and voice work five days per week.

A warm return to the stage

Fans may have been justified in fearing the worst for Celine Dion after public statements from her friends and family painted such a grim picture in terms of her health and her ability to enjoy life. Indeed, it appeared that for the foreseeable future Dion's public life was to be put on hold. But surprisingly, not long after news of her condition became common knowledge, the legendary vocalist made an unexpected public appearance that received a rapturous reception.

In February 2024, Dion took to the stage at the Grammy Awards, where, flanked by her son René-Charles, she received a standing ovation from the star-studded crowd. Reponding to shouts of "We love you" from the audience, Dion responded: "I love you all right back ... When I say I am happy to be here, I really mean it, from the bottom of my heart."

The appearance came within days of the singer announcing a new reveal-all Amazon MGM Studios documentary, "I Am: Celine Dion," which is due to give fresh insights into what the singer has been dealing with since first developing SPS symptoms in 2020. "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 explained in a press release. "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." The documentary is due to air June 25.