Monday, April 15, 2024

The Amazing Tony Bennett, Age 94, Reveals Alzheimer’s Diagnosis, Still Knows All the Songs, Has Twice Weekly Rehearsals


Like a lot of you, I’ve just read John Colapinto’s story in the AARP Magazine about Tony Bennett. The beloved 94 year old singer has Alzheimer’s. His wife, Susan, says, he’s not the old Tony, and Colapinto confirms in the story that Tony is not that communicative anymore.

But the best and most poignant part of the story is that twice a week Tony’s accompanist comes over, they run through his 90 minute set as a rehearsal. Tony sings like he’s perfectly well, and remembers all the words. Just after his diagnosis, he recorded one more album with Lady Gaga — I’m assuming this is the Cole Porter album he told me about a while back. She’s known about his condition since 2016.

The diagnosis, according to the article, came in 2016. On August 3rd, his 90th birthday, I was lucky enough to attend Tony’s birthday party at the Rainbow Room. Dozens of celebrities came. As I wrote then: Paul McCartney and wife Nancy joined Tony and his wife Susan, plus Stevie at the main table. At the next table: Martin Scorsese with his daughter Francesca, Bruce Willis and wife Emma, John Travolta, Gayle King, Katie Couric and husband John. The great Harry Belafonte was there, so were Regis and Joy Philbin.

Lady Gaga performed. A month later, Tony taped a concert at Radio City, and the whole thing became his birthday TV special. That was far from his last show. The last time I saw Tony perform was in March 2019 at Radio City. It was a magnificent show considering he was three years into the diagnosis. It was so good I asked him backstage how he did it. He replied, without hesitation: “I love it!”

It should be remembered that Tony didn’t perform his second of two shows in June 2015 with Lady Gaga at Royal Albert Hall. It was said that he collapsed at rehearsal. I was assured that there was no soundcheck that day, he didn’t collapse, and just had a touch of flu. But for Tony, who never cancels, maybe that was the start of this thing.

It doesn’t matter. In the many years I’ve been lucky enough to know Tony and spend time with him, he’s always been so courtly and such a gentleman, so smart and articulate about not just his music and family, but his politics and his charities. He is erudite to a fault. He owes us nothing. He’s given everything, with a generous heart and spirit. He’s shown incredible humility for a man with the most enormous talent. We just wish him and his family peace, and send love.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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