Legendary pop singer Tony Bennett has been battling the progressive neurological disease Alzheimer’s for more than four years. The news was revealed in an interview with Bennett’s family in AARP magazine in which the singer’s wife and son reveal that he was first diagnosed in 2016 and that as the irreversible disease progresses the 18-time Grammy winner has “increasingly rarer moments of clarity and awareness.”
Describing the legendarily jovial singer’s appearance during a November visit to Bennett’s New York apartment, the writer describes how the eternally youthful star’s smile has dimmed, making way for an expression that had a “masklike impassivity that changed only slightly to dim awareness” when his wife Susan placed a hand on his shoulder.
Struggling with the most common form of age-related dementia, Bennett, 94, has reportedly not suffered some of the more challenging effects of the disease — disorientation, episodes of terror, rage and depression — but does display some cognitive challenges during the course of the interview. “Even his increasingly rare moments of clarity and awareness reveals the depth of his debility,” the writer recounts.
During the course of the chat, Bennett is described as being fascinated with the 2018 picture book Tony Bennett Onstage and in the Studio, featuring photos of him from childhood to every stage of his career, which he seemed to struggle to remember. Susan Bennett said that he can still recognize family members, but isn’t always sure where he is or what is happening, while everyday objects such as forks or house keys can confound him.
Always one of the hardest working men in show business, Bennett still rehearses twice a week and runs through his 90-minute set with longtime accompanist, Lee Musiker, his legendarily clear-toned voice still a force to be reckoned with. “He’s not the old Tony anymore,” said Susan Bennett, “But when he sings, he’s the old Tony.”
An ageless wonder, Bennett jumped back into relevance for a new generation in 2014 when he recorded a No. 1 duets album with Lady Gaga, Cheek to Cheek, and according to AARP, the pair recorded songs for a follow-up during sessions in 2018 and 2020 and the as-yet-untitled album is due out this spring. The article also reveals that Bennett was a much quieter presence during the sessions for the second album.
Raw documentary footage of the session reportedly show him rarely, or haltingly speaking, seeming “lost and bewildered” at points. Gaga, described as “clearly aware of his condition,” keeps her sentences short and simple, as recommended by experts. “The pain and sadness in Gaga’s face is clear at such moments — but never more so than in an extraordinarily moving sequence in which Tony (a man she calls ‘an incredible mentor, and friend, and father figure’) sings a solo passage of a love song. Gaga looks on, from behind her mic, her smile breaking into a quiver, her eyes brimming, before she puts her hands over her face and sobs,” the article reveals.
Despite his struggles, the album is described as being full of “lush, gorgeous duets,” with both singers in “superb voice.” And, because he is unable to promote the album as he normally would, his family has decided to share the news about his diagnosis without Bennett’s input, since he is not capable of understanding the disease, or making the decision to disclose it.