“Do you know why a car windshield is so big and the rearview mirror is so small? Because where you’re going is more important than where you’ve been.”
At the age of 82, Anthony Gourdine has places to go. He’s just arrived at Solar Studio in Orlando to record vocals for a song, soon to be released. It was 67 years ago that he entered a recording studio for the first time. The song he recorded was “Tears On My Pillow.” It was an instant hit and at the age of 17, Little Anthony was an overnight sensation. He would go on to have a staggering career as the only artist other than Frank Sinatra to have a number one hit in four decades, and in 2009 was inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame. That is why when he sat down for an interview with Bill Shafer for his Bolder Backstage segment for Growing Bolder, it was surprising to hear him insist that he has never been happier.
“Now is the best time of my life because I’ve learned to live in the present,” Gourdine said. “Yesterday is in the past. All that counts is now.”
Now, he has nine children, 15 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, all who know him as Poppy, not Little Anthony, and that’s just fine with him.
Gourdine says the most difficult part of his life was understanding that fame wasn’t real. “I was on a fast track to an early death,” he said. “I had to learn to stop trying to be ‘Little Anthony’ and start learning to be Jerome Anthony Gourdine.
“I was an insecure, fearful, frightened little boy,” he explained. “I was doing a lot of drugs and other bad things and had no idea who I was. I could have easily been gone several times. I’m not proud of that but that’s who I was, that’s who I used to be.”
When his friend, singer Frankie Lymon, died of a heroin overdose at the age of 25 it hit Gourdine hard. “It could have been me,” he said. “Come on, man. I’m just a singer. That’s all I am. I’m like everybody else. I have the same worries, the same fears and the same challenges. What I’ve learned is that I’m so grateful to still be here.”
He shows his gratitude by continuing to perform, astonishing audiences by his uncanny ability to still hit the high notes. “People come to me all the time and say, ‘Man, you’re 82 and you sound just like you did in the 1960s,’” he said. “Even I don’t get it. All I know is meeting people and making them happy keeps me feeling young. I tell people, ‘There’s a 32-year-old guy inside of me. Do me a favor. Don’t tell him he’s really 82, it’ll just confuse him.’”
Yet, Gourdine believes he’s never seen things more clearly. Each new day is a gift, and as for the past, he cherishes what he’s accomplished and is grateful to have survived the journey. “Like everybody else, I wonder how so many years have gone by so fast,” he says. “Because in my mind, “Tears On My Pillow” was just a few years ago. “Goin’ Out of My Head,” “Hurt So Bad,” and being on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” it all feels like yesterday. I’m just so glad to still be here and it is amazing how much I really appreciate.”
This article is featured in the Fall 2023 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.