Music | February 1, 2021 1:56 pm

Tony Bennett’s Family Reveals Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

Despite his disease, Bennett recently recorded a new duets album with Lady Gaga

tony bennett
Tony Bennett performs on stage at Royal Albert Hall on June 28, 2019 in London, England.
Redferns

Tony Bennett’s family has revealed in a new, lengthy profile with AARP magazine that the legendary singer is currently suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, a decision the piece notes “they have, necessarily, had to make without Tony’s input, since he is, [his wife] Susan said, incapable of understanding the disease, let alone making momentous decisions about whether to publicly disclose it.”

Bennett, now 94, was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s back in 2016, and the article charts his sad decline in a way that will ring familiar for anyone who has had to watch a loved one slowly fade away as a result of the cruel disease. But it also includes the revelation that, despite his diagnosis, Bennett recorded a followup to his Cheek to Cheek duets album with Lady Gaga between 2018 and early 2020 that will be due out sometime this spring.

“His expression had a masklike impassivity that changed only slightly to dim awareness when Susan placed a hand on his shoulder, leaned over and said: ‘This is John, Tone. He’s come to talk to us about the new album,’” author John Colapinto writes. “She spoke into his ear, a little loudly perhaps, in a prompting, emphatic register, as if trying to reach her husband through a barrier that had fallen between him and the rest of the world.”

The profile also mentions documentary footage of the recording sessions for the new album with Lady Gaga, noting that they reveal just how far Bennett’s dementia has progressed.

“He speaks rarely, and when he does his words are halting; at times, he seems lost and bewildered,” it reads. “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.”

It’s devastating to see such a legendary performer, famous for his charm, be muted in such a way, but the article does offer a slight glimmer of good news, with his neurologists noting that singing twice a week has helped his brain in positive ways. “Backstage, Tony could seem utterly mystified about his whereabouts,” the publication notes. “But the moment he heard the announcer’s voice boom ‘Ladies and gentlemen — Tony Bennett!’ he would transform himself into performance mode, stride out into the spotlight, smiling and acknowledging the audience’s applause.”