Legendary Singer Tony Bennett's Family Discloses Disheartening Health Diagnosis
Feb 16, 2021 by apost team
Even at age 94, most Americans will remember Tony Bennett as the kind-eyed, legendary singer who brought us the hit song “I Left My Heart In San Francisco." The singer has enjoyed a diverse and extremely successful career since his start in the 1950s, and his music has touched more than just one generation. Sadly, Bennett's family has recently revealed that the singer is now battling Alzheimer's disease since 2016.
Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in 1926 in Queens, New York, Tony Bennett experienced much hardship as a child during the great depression. At just 10 years old, he lost his father, so his mom, Anna, was forced to raise their three children on her own. According to Bennet's website, he found his love for music at a young age, and his relatives had become his "first fans, filling him with encouragement and optimism."
As a teenager, Bennett attended the High School of Industrial Arts in Manhattan, where he pursued painting and singing. When he wasn't at school, he'd spend his free time glued to the radio listening to his favorite musicians; Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, and James Durante. As World War II broke out, Bennett was enlisted in the Army and traveled to Europe, where he performed with military bands.
Upon his return, the legendary singer enrolled in the American Theatre Wing School and began performing at nightclubs. His first ever club performance was in 1946 at the Shangri-La in Astoria. After a few years of small-time gigs, the rising star was noticed by comedian Bob Hope in 1949.
“Bob Hope came down to check out my act. He liked my singing so much that after the show he came back to see me in my dressing room and said, ‘Come on kid, you’re going to come to the Paramount and sing with me,’" Bennett recalled. "But first he told me he didn’t care for my stage name [Joe Bari] and asked me what my real name was. I told him, ‘My name is Anthony Dominick Benedetto,’ and he said, ‘We’ll call you Tony Bennett.’ And that’s how it happened. A new Americanized name—the start of a wonderful career and a glorious adventure that has continued for over 60 years.”
The New York native eventually broke into the mainstream in 1951 with his rendition of "Because of You." The song first became a hit on jukeboxes but quickly became no.1 on the pop charts, where it stayed for 10 consecutive weeks. After that, Bennett recorded many other hits, including “Rags to Riches,” “I Wanna Be Around,” and “The Good Life."
In 1962, Bennett released his song, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” which became his signature tune. The song was originally written a decade prior for an opera singer but had failed to gain traction. His unique pop take of the track saw Bennett win two Grammys.
Although the singer saw his career experience a downfall thanks to the rise in popularity of rock music, Bennett never lost his love and passion for singing. However, his personal life also took a toll on him.
After separating from his wife of 19 years, Patricia Beech, Bennet struggled with both his finances and addiction. According to AARP, he eventually reached out to his sons, Danny and Daegal, for help.
"He said, 'Look, I'm lost here,' " Danny told the publication. " 'It seems like people don't want to hear the music I make.' "
After that, Danny became Bennett's manager and worked hard to get the singer to appeal to a younger audience while still working with a tight budget. His career-reboot started small, with performances at colleges and small theaters, before he finally got re-signed by Columbia records in 1986. He slowly began making his way back to the mainstream with appearances on "The Simpsons" and MTV.
"Then I realized that young people had never heard those songs. Cole Porter, Gershwin—they were like, 'Who wrote that?' " Bennett told AARP. "To them, it was different. If you're different, you stand out."
And with that, Bennett's career made a huge comeback in the '90s. In 2006, he released one of his most successful albums, "Duets: An American Classic," which featured collaborations with the likes of Paul McCartney, Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Bono. The album ended up winning three Grammys and inspired the seven-time Emmy-award winning TV special, "Tony Bennett: An American Classic."
In 2011, Bennett released "Duets II," a sequel to his initial duet album, which featured duets with contemporary singing artists like Michael Bublé, Aretha Franklin, Josh Groban, Lady Gaga, and John Mayer.Tony Bennett (Bettmann/Getty Images)
The track “Body and Soul,” which Bennett recorded with the late singer Amy Winehouse, became a historical one after it was revealed to be the last she had recorded. The album quickly topped the Billboard charts at number 1, making Bennett the only artist to ever achieve that after 85 years old. And his successes didn't stop there; even as he approached 90, the legendary singer remained relevant in the world of music and was regarded as an American cultural gem.
On February 1, AARP magazine released a long feature honoring Bennet and his decades-spanning music career. What made this feature so heartbreaking, however, was the revelation that Bennet had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2016.
The singer's wife, Susan Benedetto, got candid about her husband's deterioration. According to her account, Bennet took the diagnosis calmly and hasn't lost his happy, cheerful self.
"But that's because he already didn't understand," she explained. "He would ask me, ‘What is Alzheimer's?’ I would explain, but he wouldn't get it. He'd tell me, 'Susan, I feel fine.' That's all he could process — that physically he felt great. So, nothing changed in his life. Anything that did change, he wasn't aware of."
Bennet's neurologist, Gayatri Devi, M.D., explained that while the disease has diminished his cognitive abilities, the 94-year-old remains remarkably active and sharp.
"He is doing so many things, at 94, that many people without dementia cannot do," Devi said. "He really is the symbol of hope for someone with a cognitive disorder."
Ever since the diagnosis, Benedetto has become a full-time carer for Bennett.Tony Bennett (1980) (Brownie Harris/Corbis/Getty Images)
She makes sure he receives his daily cocktail of dementia meds, follows his strict exercise regimen, and eats a nutritious Mediterranean diet. Perhaps the most crucial part of his treatment, however, is his twice-weekly music rehearsals. She's become a vital part of Bennett's treatment, and according to Devi, she's become a natural at it.
“I've been humbled by the level of [Benedetto's] devotion,” Devi said. “She also expects a lot from him. I think her background as a teacher helps, but she's also very much in love with him. And he rises to her expectations.”
“Susan will say, ‘Tony B! A fan of yours is saying hello!’ And he then turns to the person with his big blues, smiles his smile and says, ‘How are you?’ or ‘Thank you!’ The charisma and magnetism get turned on.”
Benedetto, on the other hand, admits that it hasn't been easy.
"I have my moments and it gets very difficult,” the 54-year-old said. “It’s no fun arguing with someone who doesn’t understand you… But I feel badly talking about it because we are so much more fortunate than so many people with this diagnosis. We have such a good team. [Eldest son] Danny handles Tony’s business affairs. We have great doctors.”
Thanks to that round-the-clock care and continuation of pursuing music, Bennett has still been able to perform from time to time. Devi, in fact, said the singer had "an amazingly versatile brain" and encouraged he continued performing for as long as he physically and mentally could.Tony Bennet (1995) (David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images)
“It kept him on his toes and also stimulated his brain in a significant way,” she said. So Bennet's family worked their hardest to make that possible for him. Both Benedetto and the singer's son told AARP that they would become worried when Bennet seemed completely lost and disoriented while backstage at a show. But when the announcer would shout “Ladies and gentlemen — Tony Bennett!” he'd transform into his young self and sing his heart out.
His wife was concerned he'd forget his lyrics or panic on stage at every performance, but Bennett proved her wrong each time“I was a nervous frigging wreck,” Benedetto admitted. “Yet he always delivered!"
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought Bennett's performances to a halt, with his last time on stage being in March 2020. With his world now shrunk to just within the four walls of his residence, the singer's progress has taken a hit as well.
"This has been a real blow from a cognitive perspective,” Devi said. “His memory, prior to the pandemic, was so much better. And he's not alone. So many of my patients are negatively affected by the isolation, the inability to do the things that matter to them. For someone like Tony Bennett, the big high he gets from performing was very important."
For that very reason, Devi encouraged the singer to continue to rehearse regularly. His longtime pianist, Lee Musiker, visits Bennett twice a week for 90-minutes to help him practice.
Tony Bennett (2019) (Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)
“There's a lot about him that I miss,” Benedetto said. “Because he's not the old Tony anymore. But when he sings, he's the old Tony."
Were you heartbroken to hear Tony Bennett has Alzheimer's? Let us know in the comments, and make sure you pass this along to your friends and family!