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Tony Bennett, legendary singer and master of the American songbook, dies at 96

Tony Bennett, legendary singer and master of the American songbook, dies at 96

New York (UT) – “I’ve never worked a day in my life,” Tony Bennett told USA TODAY in 2011, “because I love what I do.” The great singer cited that bit of Confucian wisdom often. In a career spanning more than six decades, Bennett conveyed that joy and inspired it in others.

Bennett died Friday at age 96, just two weeks short of his birthday. Publicist Sylvia Weiner confirmed Bennett’s death to USA TODAY and said he died in New York, his hometown. There was no specific cause, but Bennett had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.

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No vocalist celebrated the American songbook more energetically or prolifically than the man born Anthony Dominick Benedetto. Influenced by the jazz and pop icons who preceded him − none more than Frank Sinatra, but also Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Jimmy Durante − Bennett wielded his lush, gleaming tenor with a distinct freshness and a sense of yearning that served him well in early hits such as “Rags to Riches” and his cover of “Stranger In Paradise” (both released in 1953), and his signature tune, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.”

Bennett also could bring an intimate, conversational quality to songs. His readings of standards such as “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Put On a Happy Face” demonstrated his capacity for playfulness and a lovely, unforced wit. He could swing with the best of them, collaborating with Count Basie and various top jazz artists and releasing landmark albums such as “The White House Sessions − Live 1962” with Dave Brubeck and a pair of albums with pianist Bill Evans in the ’70s.

Many considered Bennett the last of the great interpretive singers, but he always begged to differ. He was a champion of other artists, old and new. He paired up with k.d. lang and Elvis Costello on the 1994 album “MTV Unplugged,”often heralded as his comeback. On his multiplatinum “Duets” albums, he collaborated with pop stars from Barbra Streisand and Paul McCartney to John Legend and Carrie Underwood.

Remembering those we lost:

Celebrity Deaths 2023 Lady Gaga, another artist featured in that series, was Bennett’s partner for the 2014 album “Cheek to Cheek” and 2021 album “Love for Sale.” The beloved musician and the pop diva became an inescapable artistic couple, signaling Bennett’s enduring passion for his own work and for promoting others’, which never waned.

The two made “Love for Sale” together over two years from 2018 to 2020 and with some urgency – in early 2021 Bennett revealed he was battling Alzheimer’s disease. He said in an interview with AARP that he was first diagnosed in 2016.

‘Love for Sale’:Tony Bennett earned Guinness World Record with Lady Gaga album.

According to the story, he had yet to experience common symptoms like disorientation or episodes of terror, rage or depression at the time, “but there was little doubt that the disease had progressed.”

Dr. Gayatri Devi, a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, who diagnosed Bennett, said the singer had some “cognitive issues, but multiple other areas of his brain are still resilient and functioning well.”

The Alzheimer’s Association defines Alzheimer’s disease as “a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior.”

Still, Lady Gaga was emotional when she talked about making that 2021 album with Bennet’s health declining.

Along with his musical artistry, Bennett maintained his passion and affinity for painting, which he did using the name Anthony Benedetto. Three of his originals are part of the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection, including the oil on canvas “Central Park.” His portrait of Duke Ellington was accepted into the National Portrait Gallery’s collection.

The perpetually busy Bennett would often scoff when asked about retirement.

“No way, I’ll never retire,” he told USA TODAY in 2014. “I love what Duke Ellington said: ‘Retire to what?'”

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