Tony Bennett died on Friday, July 21. He was 96 years old.
Bennett’s publicist confirmed the news to the Associated Press, noting that the musician passed away in New York. He was weeks away from celebrating his 97th birthday.
A cause of death was not immediately revealed.
Bennett (real name Anthony Dominick Benedetto) was the pre-eminent jazz and traditional pop singer of the 20th and 21st centuries, winning 18 Grammy Awards throughout his nearly seven-decade music career.
The entertainer was born in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, New York, on August 3, 1926. He grew up listening to legendary artists including Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby while attending the High School of Industrial Arts, where he also developed a love for painting. He started singing as a teenager and often performed in local Italian restaurants in hopes of one day securing a professional singing career.
Bennett was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944 toward the end of World War II, serving time in France and Germany. After being discharged in 1946, he studied at the American Theatre Wing in New York City. His big break came three years later when comedian Bob Hope saw him perform and suggested the more Americanized name Tony Bennett. Not long after, he was signed to Columbia Records.
Bennett released his debut album, Because of You, in 1952. That same year, he married his first wife, an art student named Patricia Beech. The couple welcomed sons Danny and Dae in 1954 and 1955, respectively. Bennett ventured into television in 1956 when he hosted the short-lived NBC variety show The Tony Bennett Show during The Perry Como Show’s off-season. He also continued to crank out albums, releasing nine by the end of the ‘50s.
In 1962, the nightclub favorite headlined a concert at the historic Carnegie Hall, singing hits including “The Best Is Yet to Come” and “I’ve Got the World on a String.” Later that year, he won his first two Grammys, Record of the Year and Best Male Solo Vocal Performance for “I Left My Heart in San Fransisco,” which became one of his signature songs.
Bennett’s career took a dip from the late ‘60s to late ‘70s after he left Columbia for Verve Records. During that time, he and Beech separated, and they finalized their divorce in 1971. Bennett quickly became involved with actress Sandra Grant, whom he married in 1971. The couple welcomed daughters Joanna and Atonia in 1970 and 1974, respectively. Bennett and Grant split in 1979, but they were legally married until 2007.
The crooner developed a drug addiction in the wake of his second marriage coming to an end, and he suffered a near-fatal cocaine overdose in 1979. Seven years later, he signed with Columbia again and had a career resurgence. Over time, he started attracting a younger audience, thanks in part to performances at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards and on MTV Unplugged the following year.
Bennett won a Primetime Emmy in 1996 for his performance on A&E’s Live by Request. He continued to amass more awards in the later years of his career, including a second Emmy and the 2001 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He found love again too, marrying former schoolteacher Susan Crow in 2007. The couple, who had a 40-year age difference, founded the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria.
The performer continued to make music and frequent TV appearances through his 80s and 90s. He released Grammy-winning duets albums in 2006 and 2011 with featured artists such as Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Billy Joel, John Legend, Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin and Mariah Carey. He also made a joint album with Lady Gaga titled Cheek to Cheek in 2014, which made him the oldest artist to have a No. 1 on the Billboard 200. He and Gaga promoted the record with a 36-date concert tour. They subsequently recorded a follow-up album in 2021.
Bennett, who was also a dedicated humanitarian and avid painter, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. Crow told AARP in 2021 that although her husband “didn’t understand” the neurodegenerative disease, he “felt great” physically and continued to make music to stimulate his brain.
“He’s not the old Tony anymore,” she said at the time. “But when he sings, he’s the old Tony.”