As he enters his fifth decade in show business, Paul Anka can trace quite a career trajectory: from '50s teen heartthrob crooning "Puppy Love" to Las Vegas mainstay, from composer of Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" theme to singer-songwriter of "Having My Baby." Anka, 56, who divides his time between homes in Bel-Air and Las Vegas, talks about the release this week of his 123rd--yes, 123rd--album, "Body of Work," which features a computer-manipulated duet, with Frank Sinatra singing Anka's most enduring song, "My Way."
Q: Where were you when you first heard Sinatra sing "My Way"?
A: I was in New York. He was out here in the studio. He called me--"Kid, listen to this"--and put the phone up to the speaker. Man, I was bowled over.
Q: How do you rate the song in the Sinatra canon?
A: I think there are better works that he did--all those classic records. But it was the only song of that kind. It was a comeback song, and a people's song. People from different walks of life have reacted to my song. I got so many a guy from death row, cancer patients.
Q: Did Sinatra hear the early version of your "My Way" duet tribute?
A: I sent it to him. They said they played it to him; he liked it. But you know, the last year he was in and out. I remember one of the last times I saw him. It's hard when you have known a guy for 40 years, and you've seen the full shades. You're in Vegas, and he thinks he's in New York--those kinds of signs. It hurts. It's like Dean [Martin]. You used to go to see Dean. He used to sit over here at La Familia, take his teeth out, put them on the table, drink. "Hey, Pallie, how you doing?" "Hey, Dean, what's up?" "Just waiting to die. Just waiting to die."
Q: Where do you want to be when you launch into "And now, the end is near . . . " for the last time?
A: It's such a tough question. We certainly try to learn from history; I don't know that most men succeed--all the greed and the power and the ego. But I'm gonna get out sooner than later. I look at five-year increments, predicated upon my health. In five years, I'm going to take stock of what I'm doing, where I am with my public, where I am with myself. I've never embarrassed myself; when I go onstage it's all up there. I'll not add any drama to that song, while I'm coughing and spitting and tied to a machine--you know, fantasia. I won't let that happen. I just won't do it. So I think it will be a poignant moment in a career that obviously had longevity, and that, I hope, has had some substance.