Tony Bennett has Alzheimer’s disease. He is not alone.
Now 94, Bennett is among the more than five million Americans who have Alzheimer’s disease. Experts predict those numbers will rise to epidemic proportions as those born between 1954 and 1964 enter their late 60s and 70s.
But Bennett is more than a statistic. He has one of the greatest voices of this or any other generation.
And he is still doing what he does best.
Bennett is still rehearsing twice a week at home and singing for an hour or longer at a time, Susan Benedetto, Bennett’s wife, told CBS This Morning on Monday. Alongside longtime pianist, Lee Musiker, Bennett regularly goes through his 90-minute set.Bennett’s condition was revealed in a profile piece published by AARP The Magazine, in which Benedetto acknowledged that Bennett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016.
Bennett, much like many Alzheimer’s patients, loses grasp of the ability or memory to do simple things. He sometimes doesn’t recognize objects like forks or keys, but he still recognizes family members. Unfortunately, that ability will likely gradually fade with time.
Despite his struggles, Bennett pushed on to record a new album of duets with Lady Gaga (following up their 2014 project, “Cheek to Cheek”). The recordings took place between 2018 and early last year at New York’s Electric Lady Studios.
The AARP piece gives readers a sobering behind-the-scenes look at those sessions.
“But Tony was a considerably more muted presence during the recording of the new album with Gaga. In raw documentary footage of the sessions, he speaks rarely, and when he does his words are halting; at times, he seems lost and bewildered. Gaga, clearly aware of his condition, keeps her utterances short and simple (as is recommended by experts in the disease when talking to Alzheimer’s patients).
‘You sound so good, Tony,’ she tells him at one point. ‘Thanks,’ is his one-word response. She says that she thinks ‘all the time’ about their 2015 tour. Tony looks at her wordlessly. ‘Wasn’t that fun every night?’ she prompts him. ‘Yeah,’ he says, uncertainly.
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.”
Gaga’s tears reflect the respect she has for Bennett. He is a national treasure, with a career that spans seven decades.
The soundtrack of his life continues, even as memories fade.
“He’s not the old Tony anymore,” his wife, Susan, told the magazine. “But when he sings, he’s the old Tony.”