Long before the name Justin Beber was even conceived, Rene Claude Simard was a childhood star in Canada – Donny Osmond, Paul Anka, Celine Dion, and Caillou all rolled into one by the time the training wheels were off his bicycle.
Born in 1961 in Chicoutimi, Quebec, he was discovered by manager Guy Cloutier while performing at a local winter carnival at the age of 6. The ink used to write Canadian content regulations wasn’t even dry yet, and Simard spoke no English, but was already a heart throb with the little girls at home and throughout the Ottawa Valley and into Montreal.
Cloutier recognized the potential of cashing in on his good looks and got him a deal with Nobel Records. Céline Dion’s future husband René Angélil was brought in as producer, and at the ripe old age of 10, Rene Simard’s first album, L’OISEAU (THE EYES), was on the shelves. Two more albums were churned out within a year, and he continued making appearances throughout the province, singing at fairs and shopping malls, and his first ‘best of’ record 21 SUCCES was released just after 12th birthday.
Over the next few years, he scored consistently on Quebec’s top 40 charts with his cover of Neil Reid’s “Mother of Mine” called “Maman Cherie,” “La sirene” which was used as the theme song to Belle et Sebastien’s French variety program, and “Fernando,” among others.
While he became a household name in Quebec, he even made a ripple as a teen in Japan and South Korea during Orient tours, due in small part to the MA PETITE JAPONAISE album in ’74. He was so adored in Japan during this period that he sold out the Budokan, and won the grand rizes for best song and best singer at the 1974 Tokyo Music Festival for “Non…pleure pas,” his orchestrated French version of the song “Midori Iro No Yane.” Frank Sinatra presented the Grand Prize to him. He also did his first Christmas album in 1974.
Throughout the first half of the 1970s, Simard’s meal ticket had grown immensely, and in ’73 he had a role in the Quebec TV series “J’ai mon voyage!” while continuing to sell out roller rinks and star on many a parade fIoat. In ’76, Montreal was putting final touches on preparations for the Olympics, and needed an opening and closing ceremonies theme song. The Olympic Committee shelled out $115,000 for Simard to sing it, but as it turned out, the ceremonies’ director general Andre Morin didn’t like the song, and “Welcome To Montreal” was pulled because it was “both unimaginative and overpromotional.” As is usually the case, critics had a field day with the original decision to name Simard for the job, and then blasted the fact it was overturned.
By the end of 1976, he’d recorded three live albums and three compilations, one which was sponsored by Pepsi Cola. Although the overwhelming majority of the songs were in French, he’d also tried to break the language barrier with a few ill-fated English tracks, including a cover of Barry Manilow’s “Mandy.”
1977 started with Simard’s deal with Nobel ending. Thinking he could shop him around, Cloutier peddled him to the CBC. He didn’t even have a driver’s license yet, but the network was looking for a new variety show host, and wanted to introduce him to the rest of Canada. They shipped him out to Vancouver for tapings and “The Rene Simard Show” was born that fall after “Hockey Night In Canada,” just like Tommy Hunter and The Irish Rovers before him. Teaming him up with producer Alan Thicke and director Buddy Bregman, the premise of the show mixed Simard’s new English songs (and occasionally his French) with various comedy sketches that featured international celebrity guests of varying fame and status.
Over the next three seasons, he entertained the country on Saturday nights while branching his music out to an English audience with NEVER KNOW THE REASON WHY in ’77, produced and arranged by Don Costa, whose resume already included the likes of Paul Anka, Steve Lawrence, and Eydie Gorme, and would later include Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, The Osmonds and The Partridge Family. He quickly returned to French albums, releasing two more that had a few English tracks on them, while the show was still on the tube.
After the show’s cancellation, Thicke continued as a producer until getting his own talk show a few years later, and then became pop icon trivia as the star of TV’s “Growing Pains.” Bregman later gamed acclaim as an internationally-known producer, director, writer, composer, conductor, arranger, musical director with Ella Fitzgerald and head of A&R at Verve Records.
Simard partially retreated out of the spotlight for the first half of the ’80s, releasing only five albums before the compilation 25 ANS 25 SUCCES summed up his career to that point in 1986. During this period, he’d carved out a niche on the Quebec market, releasing a number of top 40 French hits, and also returned to relive his glory in Japan over the next few years, to moderate success.
Along with other prominent performers from la belle province such as his sister Nathalie, Celine Dion, and Patsy Gallant, he was a founding member of le Fondation Quebec-Afrique, an Ethiopian famine relief effort that released one single in 1985, called “Les Yeux De La Faim.”
In 1987 he’d settled into some sort of normality in life, marrying TV hostess Marie-Josée Taillefer. He continued to record throughout the rest of the decade, including ESCALE A MEMPHIS (which featured duets w/ other artists including Carl Perkins), the 1988 duet album with his sister Nathalie, appropriately entitled RENE ET NATHALIE SIMARD, produced by Romano Musumarra. He also scorred top 10 in Quebec for “Chante….lalalala,” originally written by Ewald Pfleger, and made famousby Opus as “Live Is Life.”
Simard kept a relatively low profile during the ’90s and into the early ’00s, but starred in the short lived kids show “Kids of the Round Table” in 1995, and contributed to the soundtrack to the ’96 indie film “Jeanne – La Pucelle.” In 2001, he starred in the program “Les Parfaits.” Still recording, he’d successfully transformed himself into a French adult contemporary star, and recorded a duet with Celine Dion called “Quand On S’aime” (“When It’s Love”), which she never released. He, however, did release it in 2003 as part of his HIER – ENCORE album. He also continued to guest star on his sister’s recordings throughout the rest of the millennium.
Over the next couple of years, he was in the news for all the wrong reasons. Nathalie, who was also initially managed by Guy Cloutier, filed a lawsuit against him in ’04. Cloutier was convicted of sexually assaulting Nathalie when she was a child. Initially Rene stayed out of the situation, until Michel Vastel’s 2005 book on the case, “Briser le silence” (Breaking the Silence), alleged that René co-operated with Cloutier in trying to hide the assaults. In November 2005, Rene held a press conference in which he denied these charges. Cloutier was sued for $1.2 million but settled out of court, and was subsequently sentenced to a 3½ year prison term.
In 2006, Rene began hosting the reality series “L’heure de gloire” on Radio-Canada, while continuing to record French adult contemporary hits off and on.