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Tony Bennett’s family says he has Alzheimer’s: ‘But when he sings, he’s the old Tony’

Tony Bennett outstretches his arms onstage.
After his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2016, singer Tony Bennett went on to perform flawless 90-minute sets.
(Segerstom Center for the Arts )

Veteran singer Tony Bennett has been battling Alzheimer’s disease for five years, his family recently revealed to the AARP.

In an interview for AARP’s magazine published Monday, Bennett’s doctor and loved ones disclosed details of his condition and symptoms, which include some memory loss, confusion and unresponsiveness. The 94-year-old crooner was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016 and proceeded to perform 90-minute sets on tour flawlessly shortly thereafter.

“Singing is everything to him,” Bennett’s wife, Susan Benedetto, told the AARP. “Everything. It has saved his life many times. Many times. Through divorces and things. If he ever stops singing, that’s when we’ll know.”

Unlike some Alzheimer’s patients, Bennett can still recognize friends and family members, does not wander from home and has not demonstrated signs of terror, rage or depression often prompted by the debilitating disease. He struggles to identify everyday objects, however, and when recording his upcoming album with Lady Gaga from 2018 to 2020, he had lost his vigor and awareness in the studio.

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His interactions with Gaga — who told him he sounded “so good” and reminisced about their 2015 tour together — were brief and uncertain. At one point, in footage from the recording sessions, Gaga could be seen sobbing as Bennett delivered a solo part of a love song.

The “Chromatica” artist was aware of her duet partner‘s condition at the time, and their new album — a follow-up to their joint 2014 release, “Cheek to Cheek” — is set to debut in the spring.

“He always likes to say he’s in the business of making people feel good,” Benedetto told journalist Gayle King in a recent interview with “CBS This Morning.” “And so he never wanted the audience to know he had a problem, but obviously as things have progressed, it becomes more and more obvious when you interact with Tony that there’s something up.

“He’s not in any pain, and that’s why he doesn’t think anything’s wrong with him,” she added.

According to the AARP, Bennett has been taking standard Alzheimer’s medications, which regulate memory function in the brain, as well as adhering to a Mediterranean diet and weekly exercise regimen. His doctor also recommended he continue performing as long as possible to stimulate “his brain in a significant way.”

“There’s a lot about him that I miss,” Benedetto told the AARP. “Because he’s not the old Tony anymore. ... But when he sings, he’s the old Tony.”

Ten summers after Tony Bennett made his Hollywood Bowl debut in 1962, the Los Angeles Philharmonic advertised an evening featuring him at the Bowl with the orchestra and its music director, Zubin Mehta.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bennett has been rehearsing his 90-minute set at home twice a week with the help of his longtime pianist, Lee Musiker, who lives nearby. Though Bennett suffers from some “cognitive issues,” his neurologist, Gayatri Devi, said, “multiple other areas of his brain are still resilient and functioning well.”

“He is doing so many things, at 94, that many people without dementia cannot do,” Devi added. “He really is the symbol of hope for someone with a cognitive disorder.”

Read more about Bennett’s experience with Alzheimer’s on the AARP website.


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