When his wife, Susan Benedetto, revealed in February 2021 that he’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2016, few people thought they’d ever see him perform on stage again. With his advanced age, 96, and declining health, Lady Gaga knew Tony Bennett’s death was looming, which is why she considered it such “a gift” to escort him off stage for the last time ever.
Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in August 1926, he forged a legendary career in music spanning seven decades and is widely considered a champion of the American songbook, dedicated to preserving compositions penned by Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Duke Ellington, Rodgers and Hammerstein, among others. “I wanted to sing the great songs, songs that I felt really mattered to people,” he said in The Good Life (1998), an autobiography written by Will Friedwald. Frank Sinatra, whom Bennett counted as a mentor and friend, told Life magazine in 1965: “For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business,” he said. “He excites me when I watch him. He moves me. He’s the singer who gets across what the composer has in mind, and probably a little more.”
Forming a very special bond, Bennett and Lady Gaga (who’s made her name for herself in pop music but was classically trained as a jazz singer) collaborated on two albums together: Love For Sale and Cheek to Cheek, both winning Grammys for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. Bennett earned 41 Grammy nominations over the course of his career and won 20.
How did Lady Gaga respond to Tony Bennett’s death?
Lady Gaga responded to Tony Bennett’s death in an Instagram post shared on July 30, 2023. “I will miss my friend forever. I will miss singing with him, recording with him, talking with him, being on stage together. With Tony, I got to live my life in a time warp. Tony & I had this magical power. We transported ourselves to another era, modernized the music together, & gave it all new life as a singing duo. But it wasnt an act. Our relationship was very real. Sure he taught me about music, about showbiz life, but he also showed me how to keep my spirits high and my head screwed on straight. “Straight ahead,” he’d say. He was an optimist, he believed in quality work AND quality life. Plus, there was the gratitude…Tony was always grateful. He served in WWII, marched with Martin Luther King Jr., and sang jazz with the greatest singers and players in the world.”
She continued: “I’ve been grieving the loss of Tony for a long time. We had a very long and powerful goodbye. Though there were 5 decades between us, he was my friend. My real true friend. Our age difference didn’t matter– in fact, it gave us each something neither of us had with most people. We were from two different stages in life entirely–inspired. Losing Tony to Alzheimer’s has been painful but it was also really beautiful. An era of memory loss is such a sacred time in a persons life. There’s such a feeling of vulnerability and a desire to preserve dignity. All I wanted was for Tony to remember how much I loved him and how grateful I was to have him in my life. But, as that faded slowly I knew deep down he was sharing with me the most vulnerable moment in his life that he could–being willing to sing with me when his nature was changing so deeply. I’ll never forget this experience. I’ll never forget Tony Bennett. If I could say anything to the world about this I would say don’t discount your elders, don’t leave them behind when things change. Don’t flinch when you feel sad, just keep going straight ahead, sadness is part of it. Take care of your elders and I promise you will learn something special. Maybe even magical. And pay attention to silence—some of my musical partner and I’s most meaningful exchanges were with no melody at all. I love you Tony. Love, Lady.”
Weeks after his death, and on what was supposed to be his 97th birthday, Lady Gaga posted pictures on Instagram of her around New York City in honor of Tony. “Happy Birthday Tony. August 3rd is Tony Bennett Day. A day for smiling. But I’ll be celebrating you a lot more than once a year. I’ll celebrate you every time I’m on stage singing jazz music, every time I’m with your family, every time I walk down the streets of New York I’ll look around and remember all you did for this city and the whole world. 😘
She recalled performing with him at two sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall in 2021, in what would be his final show ever. “It’s a gift that I will hold in my heart till my last breath. My time with Tony has changed me forever,” she told USA Today at the time. “Frank Sinatra said he was the best singer in the world, and I don’t think Frank lied.”
The two made Love For Sale over two years, from 2018 to 2020 and a month before the album’s release, the duo performed two sold-out concerts at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in celebration of the album and his 95th birthday. The show was called “One Last Time” and was the singer’s last moments on stage. “It was absolute magic, I was so moved,” Lady Gaga said. “I had to work a lot on breathing because I wanted to cry almost all the time.”
During rehearsals, Gaga recalled to Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes how they prepared together. “If I were to say, ‘Tony, would you like to sing ‘Love for Sale,’’ he’ll say, ‘Yeah.’ And if I say, ‘Tony, would you like to sing ‘Love for Sale’ or ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing,’’ he might not have as easy of a response,” she said. “When that music comes on, something happens to him. He knows exactly what he’s doing. And what’s important for me, actually, just to make sure that I don’t get in the way of that.”
Gaga also revealed that, in the lead-up, she wasn’t sure that Bennett could remember her name, but when they walked out on stage together, it all came back to him. “That’s the first time that Tony said my name in a long time,” she recalled. “I had to keep it together, because we had a sold-out show, and I have a job to do. But I’ll tell you, when I walked out on that stage, and he said, ‘It’s Lady Gaga,’ my friend saw me. And it was very special.”
At the show’s conclusion, Gaga revealed their final moments together. “It’s the last thing that I said to Tony on stage was, ‘Mr. Bennett, it would be my honor if I could escort you off the stage.’ And he said, ‘Okay.’ And I did. And, just simply being the woman that got to walk him off stage, that’s enough for me,” she said.
Clearly, Gaga and Bennett shared a special bond. In 2014, she admitted to Parade Magazine that, six months prior to the interview, she felt like giving up on music because some people in her inner circle had become “irrational” with regard to money and what they expected from her. “I was so sad. I couldn’t sleep. I felt dead. And then I spent a lot of time with Tony. He wanted nothing but my friendship and my voice,” she said. “The other day, Tony said, ‘I’ve never once in my career not wanted to do this. It stung. Six months ago, I didn’t feel that way. I tell Tony every day that he saved my life.”
Bennett died on July 21, 2023. No cause of death was announced. “Tony Bennett, born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in Astoria, Queens on August 3, 1926, has passed away in his hometown of New York City at the age of 96 earlier today,” his publicist Sylvia Weiner told multiple publications like USA Today and People. “The beloved singer, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2016, is survived by his wife, Susan Benedetto, his two sons, Danny and Dae Bennett, his daughters Johanna Bennett and Antonia Bennett and 9 grandchildren.” His family revealed that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in an AARP article in 2021. “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,” his neurologist Gayatri Devi told the site.
His wife Susan assured that he was in good spirits. “But that’s because he already didn’t understand,” she told AARP. “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,” Benedetto said. “So, nothing changed in his life. Anything that did change, he wasn’t aware of.”
The renowned recording artist Tony Bennett shares a half-century of personal memories, from his childhood in Depression-era Queens to the New York jazz scene of the 1940s, to his successes with a new generation of fans in the 1990s.
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