Iconic performer Tony Bennett has opened up to the AARP about living with Alzheimer’s Disease, a diagnosis that he and his family have chosen to keep private for four years.
The singer—with the help of his wife, Susan, son/manager Danny, and a team of neurologists—revealed in an in-depth profile for the association’s magazine that he was first diagnosed with the condition in 2016. Bennett, who has maintained a very active career for over 75 years, has continued to perform with the likes of Lady Gaga since then: AARP writer John Colapinto recounts footage of a performance from the duo, noting that Gaga seemed “clearly aware of his condition” and that the older singer barely spoke beyond one-word responses—a far cry from his storied penchant for charismatic storytelling between songs.
Colapinto went on to describe Bennett’s state during the interview:
Bennett, first diagnosed in 2016, has so far been spared the disorientation that can prompt patients to wander from home, as well as the episodes of terror, rage or depression that can accompany Alzheimer’s frightening detachment from reality; and, indeed, he might never develop these symptoms. But there was little doubt that the disease had progressed. Even his increasingly rare moments of clarity and awareness reveal the depths of his debility. At one point, as Susan and I stood chatting, he looked up suddenly from the book in his lap and, flashing that familiar smile, asked me in his soft, sueded whisper, “How’s the weather outside?” Had I not known that he and Susan had just returned from walking their dog in the park, I might not have suspected that anything was amiss.
The report explained that Bennett remains stimulated with two extensive singing sessions a week with longtime pianist Lee Musiker. A team of neurologists have encouraged his continued performances as long as he is comfortably able to do so. Colapinto also notes that his ability to perform seemingly anchors him in familiarity:
Both Susan and Danny said that backstage, Tony could seem utterly mystified about his whereabouts. 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.
The article also revealed that Bennett plans to release a follow-up to Cheek To Cheek, his album with Lady Gaga sometime this spring.