The Meaning Behind “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion

Celine Dion’s voice spoke to a generation with the release of “My Heart Will Go On” in 1997. Known as the wildly popular theme song for the film Titanic starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, the song can be heard during the end credits and is featured on the soundtrack.

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Dion’s soul-stirring performance coupled with the movie’s devastating story of star-crossed lovers Jack Dawson (DiCaprio) and Rose DeWitt Bukater (Winslet), has made “My Heart Will Go On” a timeless classic. Below, we look at the origin story of the iconic song.

Meaning Behind the Song

“My Heart Will Go On” was composed by James Horner and the lyrics were written by Will Jennings. But there was a chance that the song may have never existed. Horner wrote the score for the entire film and was under instruction by Director James Cameron that he didn’t want any songs with lyrics, only instrumentals. But when thinking of what song to have at the end of the film, Horner called on Jennings to write lyrics to one of his compositions. In secret, Horner and Jennings approached Dion to record the track, Horner performing a live demo of the song for Dion in her hotel room at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

Dion later cut the song at a studio in New York in two takes. Horner presented the tape to Cameron a month later while at the director’s house to watch another cut of the film that included newly added special effects.

“I played him the song and he said, ‘Well those are our themes right?'” Horner recalled in an interview with CNN. Cameron inquired when he managed to write the song and get Dion to record it. “I said, ‘We just did it. And I know you don’t want a song in the movie, but I think that this would be an appropriate thing to do because it distills everything about the film.'”

Three weeks before the film was complete, Cameron agreed to feature the song at the film’s end. “I think the audience was very much engrossed and captured by the film and the music married the film very, very well,” Horner observed. “And so when one thinks of Titanic, one may think of both.”

Though it would go on to become her signature hit, Dion admits that she initially resisted recording the song. “I don’t do television so much, so I didn’t want to record the song,” she admitted on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

“When I recorded it, I didn’t think about a movie; I didn’t think about radio,” she later told Billboard. “I thought, ‘Sing the song, then get the heck out of there.’” 

Dion’s then-husband René Angélil, who passed away in 2016, was the one responsible for persuading her to record a demo that eventually ended up in Cameron’s hands. Dion and Cameron met when the singer and her husband attended a private screening of Titanic in New York that included “My Heart Will Go On.” Dion left in tears at the emotional impact of the film.

“I don’t think Jim has ever been someone who needs other people’s ­opinion,” “My Heart Will Go On” Co-Producer Simon Franglen says. “But I know that he personally got the song. He felt like it gave a resonance to the rest of the movie.”

“The movie had a punch ­[without the song],” adds Titanic Executive Producer Jon Landau. “What it did not have was something you could take home with you. They found an organic way to weave ‘My Heart Will Go On’ in. It’s just a continuation of the epilogue of the film.”


Like Titanic, “My Heart Will Go On” was a blockbuster success. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 following its November 1997 release and has since sold more than 18 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time. The song hit No. 1 all around the world, ranging from the U.S. to Europe to Taiwan and New Zealand, just to name a few. It was also named Best Original Song at the 1997 Academy Awards.

“My Heart Will Go On” is also featured on Dion’s 1997 album, Let’s Talk About Love, where she enlisted an all-star list of collaborators including Barbara Streisand, the Bee Gees and Carole King. The album charted worldwide, topping both the Billboard 200 in the U.S., the Canada Top Albums chart in Dion’s native country, and more.

Photo by ALICE CHICHE/AFP via Getty Images

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