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Céline Dion has canceled all of her shows through April 2024—and reportedly might never tour again—because of her struggle with the rare neurological condition stiff person syndrome.
On Friday, the 55-year-old announced on Twitter and Instagram that 42 upcoming dates on her Courage World Tour are canceled because she isn’t healthy enough to perform. An unnamed source close to the singer told CNN she’s in a lot of pain and that her touring career is “likely” over.
The Canadian pop star, known for hits like “My Heart Will Go On” and “The Power of Love,” revealed her diagnosis in December 2022, saying she experiences muscle spams that affect her everyday life—including her ability to walk and correctly use her vocal cords. She had already canceled eight shows scheduled for this summer and postponed a number of others to next year before officially stopping the tour Friday.
“I’m working really hard to build back my strength, but touring can be difficult even when you’re 100 percent,” Dion said in her statement Friday. “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 ready to be back on stage again.”
What Is Stiff Person Syndrome?
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, stiff person syndrome (SPS) is an autoimmune neurological disorder that causes painful muscle contractions and spasms that often begin in the legs and back. They can also occur in other parts of the body like the abdomen, arms, neck, and face.
There are different classifications of SPS depending on the patient’s symptoms. For example, partial SPS is when tight muscles and spasms are limited to one area, while SPS plus includes symptoms of a dysfunctional cerebellum like double vision and slurred speech. The rare disease was believed to affect only one or two out of every one million people, but experts are starting to consider the syndrome as a spectrum of disorders, meaning it could be slightly more common.
Dion has cited spasms as her primary symptom, and she works daily with a sports medicine therapist to build her strength. However, a doctor at Johns Hopkins’ Stiff Person Syndrome Center told CNN the singer faces additional challenges as a performer. Loud noises and bright stage lights could trigger spasms, which are sometimes severe enough to cause bone fractures.
There is no cure for SPS, but it can be treated through medication and other means such as physical and aquatic therapy, chiropractic treatments, yoga, and acupuncture. Leah Croll, a doctor at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine, told Good Morning America in December that women are two to three times more likely to suffer from SPS than men, and the disease is often detected between ages 20 and 50.
What’s Next for Dion?
Contrary to the CNN report, Friday’s statement from Dion suggests the singer is hopeful she can one day complete her tour, which was initially paused in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I want you all to know I’m not giving up and I can’t wait to see you again!” she said.
Her diagnosis hasn’t stopped her from releasing new music. On April 13, Dion debuted her first new song in four years with “Love Again,” the title track from the film of the same name released in May. Dion contributed five new songs to the soundtrack and also appears in the romantic comedy, which stars Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Sam Heughan.
Dion also has her family to keep in mind in deciding to prioritize her health. She is a mother to three sons—René-Charles Angélil, 21, and Nelson and Eddy Angélil, both 12—with late husband Rene Angélil, who died from throat cancer in 2016.
As for patients with SPS and experts studying the disorder, there is hope that Dion’s public battle raises awareness and leads to more funding toward research and treatment. Dr. Scott Newsome, director of the SPS Center at Johns Hopkins, told the Montreal Gazette in March he believes Dion might have an effect similar to actor Michael J. Fox, whose foundation has raised more than $1 billion for Parkinson’s disease research since the star publicly announced his own diagnosis.
“They’ve made a lot of progress, and I am hopeful we will see that, too,” Newsome said. “Not a case goes by that I don’t hear someone say, ‘Wow, now my friends and family can put a face and name to this condition where before they thought I was making it up.’”
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