Legendary jazz vocalist Tony Bennett has revealed that he’s been living with Alzheimer’s disease for the last four years.
The 94-year-old singer made the announcement via a feature in AARP Magazine, which details Bennett’s struggles with memory loss and his efforts to mitigate the effects of the condition.
Bennett was first diagnosed in 2016. So far, he has avoided many of the worst characteristics of the disease, and his ability to sing has been mostly unimpeded. But author John Colapinto reports that it’s clear that Bennett’s condition has progressed: “Even his increasingly rare moments of clarity and awareness reveal the depths of his debility,” he writes.
In an Instagram post, Bennett wrote: “Life is a gift – even with Alzheimer’s. Thank you to Susan and my family for their support, and @AARP The Magazine for telling my story.”
Bennett rose to fame in the early ’50s with his first No. 1 hit Because of You in 1951, followed by several more chart-topping songs in 1953. He then incorporated jazz into his artistic approach and reached his peak in the late ’50s and early ’60s with classic albums such as The Beat of My Heart and Basie Swings, Bennett Sings, and his signature song I Left My Heart in San Francisco in 1962. After a career downturn, Bennett staged a comeback in the late ’80s, once again making best-selling records while remaining true to his classic style.
Bennett remains popular and acclaimed to this day. He has sold more than 50 million records worldwide. He was won 19 Grammy Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Award) and two Emmy Awards. He’s been named an NEA Jazz Master and was given the Kennedy Center Honors.
Bennett’s most recent albums include collaborations with Lady Gaga in 2014 and Diana Krall in 2018. Bennett’s second duet album with Lady Gaga, recorded between 2018 and early 2020, is due to be released this spring. Bennett’s wife Susan says during the recording sessions with Lady Gaga, he was already showing “clear signs” of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Singing is everything to him,” Susan told the magazine. “Everything. It has saved his life many times. Many times.”
The AARP article draws attention to the social stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s disease, along with experts’ efforts to encourage sufferers and their families to try to avoid responses that include “panicking and hiding away,” citing the ill effects of such stigmatization.
More than 747,000 Canadians are living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Globally, at least 44 million people are living with dementia. For more information, visit the Alzheimer Society of Canada at alzheimer.ca.