Legendary Singer Tony Bennett Dead At 96

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Legendary singer Tony Bennett has died at the age of 96, reports Variety. He was notable for his hit songs such as, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" and "The Shadow Of Your Smile." The iconic crooner helped popularize American contemporary music and was recognized for his smooth and deep singing voice. As a multi-Grammy-winning artist, Bennett had one of the longest careers in the music industry. Since the '50s, Bennett showcased his musical talents, but his recent death brings a career that spanned over eight decades to a sad end — although his music will live on. 

He said at one point that his goal was to release "... a hit catalog rather than hit records," and with his prolific output, nobody could say he did not accomplish that fact over his 96 years (via AP). "I enjoy entertaining the audience, making them forget their problems," he said. "I think people ... are touched if they hear something that's sincere and honest and maybe has a little sense of humor. ... I just like to make people feel good when I perform."

Tony Bennett's early life and love for music

Bennett was born as Anthony Dominick Benedetto to an Italian-American family in the New York City borough of Queens on August 3, 1926. He was the youngest of three children, and he got his start in the performing arts around the age of 10. As it turned out, he was very fond of singing and art. As a result of his love for his two hobbies, he went on to study music and painting when he attended the New York High School of Industrial Arts. When he was a teen, he found a stage to display his singing abilities and snagged a job as a singing waiter at neighborhood restaurants. Back then he was known by the stage name "Joe Bari."

Like a lot of young men of age in the 1940s, getting drafted into the war was inevitable. As a member of that demographic, Bennett ended up serving in World War II from 1944 to 1946 (via Medic in the Green Time). But being on the frontlines of war didn't stop the songbird from expressing his vocal talent, and Bennett sang with an army band while he served. Upon his return from WWII, he went back to his job as a singing waiter and enrolled at the American Theater Wing to continue his performing art studies — until he caught the eye of actress and singer Pearl Bailey one night.

Bennett gets discovered and rises to fame

Bailey would invite Bennett to sing a gig at another restaurant with her. One day, actor Bob Hope walked in during a Bennett performance and the rest, as they say, was history — but not before Hope encouraged Bennett to adopt a new stage name. "I told him, 'My name is Anthony Dominick Benedetto,' and he said, 'We'll call you Tony Bennett.' And that's how it happened. A new Americanized name — the start of a wonderful career and a glorious adventure that has continued for over 60 years," Bennett noted on his website.

It was 1949, and Bennett was invited to tour with Hope. The following year, Columbia Records signed him. And a year later, he had his first hit song, "Because of You." The song would be the first of many popular songs Bennett recorded, but even with newfound fame, he cherished his first job very close to his heart. He once said that if he never made it big he would've been comfortably fine singing at the eateries. "I loved that time of my life, and I honestly feel that, if I hadn't made it professionally, I would be perfectly happy going back to being a singing waiter," Bennett told The San Diego Union-Tribune in 2019.

Tony Bennett's decorated career

With more than a dozen Grammy wins and three dozen overall nominations, Bennett is an accomplished artist. He was nominated 36 times and won the esteemed music award 18 times (via the Grammy website). In 1962, he was nominated for his first three Grammys and left with two trophies; one for his song "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," which won Record of the Year, and one for Best Male Solo. He would be a frequent participant and nominee at the awards show for most of his career. His last Grammy win was in 2015 for his joint project with Bill Charlap titled, "The Silver Lining: The Songs Of Jerome Kern." In 2001, the Recording Academy honored him with that year's Lifetime Achievement Award.

He also won several other awards for his music, including two Emmys for musical performances. Since the '50s, Bennett worked on more than 100 projects, which included solo and collaborative albums. Though it's reported that he never actually had a No. 1 hit (via Billboard), according to Cheat Sheet, that may be debatable, since Bennett's singing career kicked off several years before Billboard created the Hot 100 in 1958. Overall, Bennett saw 23 of his songs make the chart.

Over the course of his presence in the music industry, he worked with the likes of big music names, from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga — the latter with whom he recorded two albums ("Cheek to Cheek" and another that hasn't been released yet). His legacy was cemented when he received a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

His shocking illness reveal

In February 2021, Bennett's family announced that the singer had Alzheimer's disease, and he had apparently originally been diagnosed in 2016. It worsened at the start of 2021 and his relatives decided to share the status of his health with fans. It came as a shock to many, especially for those looking forward to the second joint album he recorded with Lady Gaga, which was released on September 30, 2021.

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disease that typically worsens over time. It can cause someone to not only lose their memory, but also have the inability to speak and have bouts of disorientation, via Alzheimer's Association. Usually the sufferer doesn't know about their illness and it's mostly noticed by close friends and family.

Bennett's third marriage was to Susan Benedetto, who he wed in 2007. Bennett did not have children with his most recent partner, but had two kids each with his ex-wives: Antonia and Joanna Bennett with Sandra Grant, and Danny and Dae Bennett with Patricia Beech. Bennett is survived by his wife, four children, and four grandchildren.