Tony Bennett has revealed he’s been battling Alzheimer’s disease.
The 94-year-old musician and his family made the announcement in an interview with AARP The Magazine published on Monday. First diagnosed in 2016, the report explains that Bennett’s disease, which is a type of dementia that impacts memory, thinking and behavior, has since progressed to a point where it was necessary to divulge it to the public.
In tandem with the diagnosis, the report announces that a follow-up to “Cheek to Cheek,” Bennett’s hit 2015 album with Lady Gaga, is slated for release in the spring.
Through his interactions with Gaga, the AARP interview reveals the heartbreaking impact of the disease. A change in the ability to communicate is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s, particularly speaking less often. Bennett, when asked by AARP whether he was “excited about the new record with Gaga,” reportedly stared at the reporter silently.
In raw documentary footage of his “Cheek to Cheek” follow-up with Gaga, the publication says he “speaks rarely, and when he does his words are halting; at times, he seems lost and bewildered.” Gaga, attempting to connect with him, asks at one point, “Wasn’t that fun every night?” of their previous time touring together. Upon Bennett shakily answering, “Yeah,” AARP reports that her smile broke “into a quiver, her eyes brimming, before she puts her hands over her face and sobs.”
Bennett’s change in demeanor has rendered him unable to participate in promotional interviews, an integral part of the album release process. This, his wife Susan Benedetto and son Danny Bennett say, is the reason they have “jointly decided to break the silence around his condition, a decision they have, necessarily, had to make without Tony’s input.”
The diagnosis apparently came after Bennett couldn’t remember the names of his fellow musicians while performing onstage in 2015.
“So, we got him a list that he put on the piano,” Benedetto said of that moment, “but he wasn’t happy about it.”
Bennett, recognizing something was wrong, insisted on seeing a doctor.
Since his diagnosis, Benedetto said that “Tony himself remains content and happy” and that some of that is due to inability to understand what’s happening to him.
“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,” she explained.
Benedetto also shared that it’s crucial to her that Bennett is still singing.
“Singing is everything to him. 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,” she said.
You can read the entire AARP interview here.