Tony Bennett is battling Alzheimer’s.
The family of the legendary crooner, who turned 94 last August, went public with his diagnosis in an interview with AARP Magazine. Bennett was first diagnosed with the illness in 2016 and it has “progressed” in the years since. “Even his increasingly rare moments of clarity and awareness reveal the depths of his debility,” writes John Colapinto in his article for AARP, which was published Monday.
Susan, Bennett’s wife of 13 years, said her husband still recognizes family members, but he is not always sure where he is or what is happening around him. She explained that Bennett doesn’t fully grasp the illness: “He would ask me, ‘What is Alzheimer’s?’ I would explain, but he wouldn’t get it. He’d tell me, ‘Susan, I feel fine.’ That’s all he could process — that physically he felt great. So, nothing changed in his life. Anything that did change, he wasn’t aware of.”
Even still, Gayatri Devi, M.D., the neurologist who diagnosed Bennett in 2016, remains positive about his outlook and his ability to function. “He has some ‘cognitive’ issues, but multiple other areas of his brain are still resilient and functioning well,” Dr. Devi said. “He is doing so many things, at 94, that many people without dementia cannot do. He really is the symbol of hope for someone with a cognitive disorder.”
To that point, Bennett continues to record new music. In fact, he and Lady Gaga are gearing up to release a sequel to their 2014 collaborative album, Cheek to Cheek, which is expected to see release this spring.
But because of the pandemic, Bennett has been unable to sing and perform — two things which Dr. Devi told AARP had been crucial to maintaining a cognitive well-being. “His memory, prior to the pandemic, was so much better. And he’s not alone. So many of my patients are negatively affected by the isolation, the inability to do the things that matter to them. For someone like Tony Bennett, the big high he gets from performing was very important.”
In lieu of public performances, Bennett continues to rehearse in private with his longtime pianist Lee Musiker. Colapinto was in attendance for one of these rehearsals and described the incredible and surreal scene:
“Musiker placed a set list on the piano in front of Tony, but they didn’t stick to it. Indeed, the first chord Musiker hit was from a song that wasn’t on the list and that Tony hadn’t sung much in recent years. Yet immediately, incredibly, he opened his mouth and out rolled a stream of rich, resonant notes, swelling up and outward from the lower part of his range, the melancholy tone perfectly matched to the lyric, which he produced with his famously clear articulation.”
You can read the Colapinto’s full article at AARP.