Tragic Details About Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett, who died July 21, 2023, had a successful decades-long career as a crooner. Throughout the years, he achieved many accolades, performed for 11 United States presidents, collaborated with other artists, and even founded a school. Not only that, but Bennett was also a talented artist, and some of his paintings are displayed at the Smithsonian Institution. With millions of album sales and 19 Grammy Awards under his name, Bennett was considered one of the most versatile singers (via Biography).

Bennett was born Anthony Benedetto in 1926 in Queens, New York to an Italian family. He came from humble beginnings, with his father working as a grocer and his mother a seamstress. According to All Music, Bennett's interest in music started when he was just a young boy. He pursued art and music and was able to reach his dreams of becoming a singer, but it came with a fair share of challenges that he encountered at different points in his life.

He had to start working at a young age

Tony Bennett lived his younger years during the Great Depression, which left many people unemployed. Both his parents had to work to provide for their family, but sadly, his father died when he was only 10 years old. Bennett was enrolled at the High School of Industrial Arts in New York City, but he didn't finish his education, as he dropped out in order to get work and help with the family's finances, as reported by Biography. Fortunately, Bennett was able to get work doing what he loved — singing.

As a teenager, Bennett worked as a singing waiter in different Italian restaurants in New York. Despite having to stop school to help support his family, it wasn't all that bad for the aspiring singer. In fact, he said he would be fine with doing just that if he never made it big. In 2020, one of the restaurants where he used to work — Riccardo's — was forced to close its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bennett took to Twitter to say, "When I was starting out, I got a job as a singing waiter at Riccardo's in Astoria. I always felt that if I never made it as a performer, I would still be happy as a singing waiter."

He experienced prejudice as a World War II soldier

At 18 years old, Tony Bennett was drafted into the U.S. Army in November 1944 during World War II. He admittedly said that he had no idea what was going to happen to him during his service. In his autobiography titled "The Good Life," Bennett recalled an incident at the induction center, as reported by PBS. When asked whether he wanted to join the Army or the Navy, Bennett answered Navy, but then the officer proceeded to stamp "Army" on his file. "I thought, 'Oh, boy, so that's the way it's going to be.' Little did I know what I was in for," Bennett wrote.

That was just the start of it. Bennett headed to Fort Dix in New Jersey to undergo his training, which was tough, to say the least. The crooner said that the officers treated them "like animals" in order to break their morale. The biggest shock for Bennett, however, was the bigotry he experienced. In his words, his sergeant was "an old-fashioned southern bigot" who treated him poorly for his ethnicity. "He had it in for me right from the start because I was an Italian from New York City. I wasn't the only one who experienced prejudice — it was just as bad for other ethnic groups, especially the Blacks and Jews," he said. In 1945, Bennett was demoted to private after inviting his Black comrade to eat with him. At that time, soldiers were still segregated, and according to the singer, "It was actually more acceptable to fraternize with the German troops than it was to be friendly with a fellow Black American soldier."

He was deeply in debt at one point

Although Tony Bennett found success in the late 1950s up to the '60, his career took a downward turn in the 1970s when he lost a contract with Columbia Records. It came to a point when he was in huge debt — mostly because of unpaid taxes that amounted to about $2 million that he couldn't afford to pay — as reported by Express. Bennett also spent the bulk of his money over the years on publicity and advertising, but he didn't manage his finances well and was spending more money than he was making. The situation was so bad that he almost had his home seized.

Bennett's managers didn't give him the boost he needed during the tough time and only told him, "You owe so much money. You will never be able to pull out of it as long as you live," he recalled, per the New York Times. Fortunately, Bennett was able to get through the financial struggle, and he turned to his son — Danny Bennett — to help manage his financial affairs from then on. The older Bennett was able to clear his IRS debt in 1990, and his son set aside millions in savings for him.

His cocaine addiction almost took his life

Tony Bennett went through some tough times in the '70s. He took a break from making music, he was deeply in debt, and his mother died on Thanksgiving Day in 1977. It was too much for the singer to handle, and he turned to marijuana and cocaine to try and cope with unfortunate events. Per the Daily Mail, Bennett said, "I wasn't doing a huge amount. I was smoking pot and doing a little bit of cocaine. People get addicted and everything changes for the worse."

In 1979, Bennett's then-wife, Sandra Grant, discovered he had overdosed on cocaine and was passed out in the bathtub. She had to revive him, and he was immediately transported to the hospital. It was at that point that Bennett knew he had to turn his life around. It was comedian Lenny Bruce's manager who made him realize he had to get clean when he told him that "he sinned against his talent with his drug habit." From then on, Bennett stopped taking drugs. "I just stopped. I had to, because I thought I was going to lose everything." Now, the singer admits that his only addiction is chocolate.

He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's

In 2021, Tony Bennett's family revealed that the singer had Alzheimer's disease. He was diagnosed in 2016 when he was 90 years old. The illness slowly affected the crooner, and according to Rolling Stone, he became quieter and at times experienced short-term memory loss. Despite the struggle, his neurologist said that several parts of his brain were still functioning well at the time. Bennett's Alzheimer's was managed with medication, regular exercise, and a healthy diet. In addition, music was still a big part of his life until the end.

In August 2021, Bennett officially retired from his 70-year career as a singer. He was in the middle of a tour when his son and manager, Danny Bennett, canceled the remainder of the tour dates. According to Danny, per Deadline, the cancellation of his live performances and his retirement was suggested by his father's doctor. However, he said that it didn't have anything to do with Bennett's ability to sing; rather, it was done as a precautionary measure against falls or mishaps that may happen while performing onstage. Bennett released his last album titled "Love for Sale" — a collaboration with Lady Gaga — in September 2021.