For over nearly five years, Tony Bennett has been battling Alzheimer’s in secret. Now, the music icon has gone public with his diagnosis – and that he recorded a second album with Lady Gaga while dealing with this disease.
“Life is a gift – even with Alzheimer’s,” tweeted Tony Bennett’s official account on Feb. 1, while going public with his diagnosis. The 94-year-old music icon’s struggle with the disease was detailed in an article for AARP The Magazine. Along with the revelation that Tony has been battling Alzheimer’s since 2016 was the news that, amidst this struggle, he recorded a new album with Lady Gaga. Gaga, 34, and Tony “started recording the new LP at New York’s Electric Lady Studios two years after his diagnosis,” per AARP. The album was recorded between 2018 and 2020 and is “finally being prepared for release this spring.”
At first, Tony’s wife, Susan Crow, 54, was unsure that her husband was “up to the task” of recording a new – and possibly, his last — album. Once a “meticulous and hard-driving perfectionist in the studio,” Tony was a “more muted presence during the recording of the new album,” according to AARP, who also claims that documentary footage of the recordings show him rarely speaking. Gaga also reportedly kept her sentences “short and simple,” which AARP notes is recommended by experts when talking to Alzheimer’s patients. “You sound so good, Tony,” Gaga tells Tony, to which he replies, “Thanks.” Seeing Tony in the throes of this disease left Gaga emotional. AARP noted that after Tony, with his golden voice still shining, sang a solo passage from a love song, Gaga looked on from behind her mic, “her smile breaking into a quiver, her eyes brimming, before she puts her hands over her face and sobs.”
Gaga and Tony first teamed up for 2014’s Cheek to Cheek, an album that debuted at the top of the Billboard Top 200 albums chart. For Gaga, the partnership was a “life-changing moment” since, at the time, she was known mostly for her techno-infused pop tracks and outlandish outfits. “The fact that Tony sees me as a natural-born jazz singer is still something that I haven’t gotten over,” she recently said, and since then, Gaga has been Tony’s devoted protégé. Gaga’s bond with Tony was so strong that his eldest son, Danny Bennett, 67, consulted her first before going public with Tony’s diagnosis. “I wanted to check with her to make sure she was cool,” said Danny, “because she watches his back all the time. She was like, ‘Absolutely, it’s just another gift that he can give to the world.’ “
Gayatri Devi, M.D., a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, diagnosed Tony in 2016, according to AARP. Dr. Devi says that Tony has some “ cognitive issues, but multiple other areas of his brain are still resilient and functioning well. 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.”
Tony is taking the standard Alzheimer’s medications — cholinesterase inhibitors, which AARP notes “regulate the concentration of the brain’s chemical messengers for normal memory function.” He’s also maintaining a regimen of diet and exercise. On top of that, Tony’s high functioning is attributed to his family’s support, especially his wife, Susan.
“I’ve been humbled by the level of devotion,” Dr. Devi said. “[Sudan] also expects a lot from him. I think her background as a teacher helps, but she’s also very much in love with him. And he rises to her expectations.” The doctor noted that if a fan recognizes Tony in the clinic’s waiting room, Susan would turn to her husband and say, “ ‘Tony B! A fan of yours is saying hello!’ And he then turns to the person with his big blues, smiles his smile, and says, ‘How are you?’ or ‘Thank you!’ The charisma and magnetism get turned on.”
Dr. Devi has also encouraged Danny and Susan to keep Tony singing and performing for as long as he could happily do so. “It kept him on his toes and also stimulated his brain in a significant way,” the doctor added. Though Tony could see “utterly mystified about his whereabouts” while backstage before a concert, the moment the announcer goes, “Ladies and gentlemen – Tony Bennett!” it would flip a switch, and he would go into performance mode.
Life is a gift – even with Alzheimer’s. Thank you to Susan and my family for their support, and @AARP The Magazine for telling my story.
Read more here:https://t.co/R05A4jc5BF⁰
📸 Kelsey Bennett pic.twitter.com/ApxBCpGv0y
— Tony Bennett (@itstonybennett) February 1, 2021
Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic forced him to pause his public performances. “This has been a real blow from a cognitive perspective,” Dr. Devi told AARP. “His memory, prior to the pandemic, was so much better. And he’s not alone. So many of my patients are negatively affected by the isolation, the inability to do the things that matter to them. For someone like Tony Bennett, the big high he gets from performing was very important.”