One-On-One with Tony Bennett: The Best is Yet to Come
In 1926, Hollywood legend Greta Garbo made her big screen debut, Winnie the Pooh hit bookshelves and little Anthony Dominick Benedetto — re-christened Tony Bennett by Bob Hope years later — was born in New York City. Ninety years on, Garbo’s taken her final bow while Winnie’s snacking on his umpteenth honeypot. Bennett, however, hasn’t slowed down, touring and releasing music and most recently pegged as a possible duet partner for his pal Lady Gaga when she performs at the Super Bowl in 2017 (he’d become the oldest performer in the event’s history if he does).
All year long Bennett’s been feted with 90th birthday celebrations, including a star-studded Radio City Music Hall bash — taped in September — that airs on NBC on Dec. 20. The former Zoomer cover subject recently took some time to discuss his milestone year.
MIKE CRISOLAGO: Congratulations on your 90th birthday and all the celebrations this year. What does 90 feel like?
TONY BENNETT: It feels beautiful. I feel like I’m 45. My doctor kicks me out of his office. He said, “You’re too healthy.” [Laughs] I’m very fortunate.
MC: You’re also one of the last remaining performers of your generation and something of a bridge between generations. Does that add significance to your performances?
TB: Thank you. It’s wonderful because the [entertainment] media put the accent a little too much on the young. They keep saying the thing that sells the most, is the biggest, is the young, and I just feel wonderful that at my age, at 90, I’m more popular now than I’ve ever been in my whole career. So it’s just a blessing.
MC: When you look toward the future, do you ever consider retiring?
TB: Oh, no. I know this is going to sound funny, but it’s very, very true – I have an awful lot to learn yet.
MC: Do you mean musically or in life?
TB: Everything. Just life in general. You keep learning all the time.
MC: What sort of things do you find yourself picking up as you go?
TB: I can’t get over nature. It’s so fantastic, you know? It’s bigger than all of us. Every leaf of the trees in Central Park – when I look out the window and just see how there’s nothing the same. There’s no such thing in nature as a straight line. It’s not only beautiful, but it’s alive.
MC: I have to ask you, since it’s been in the news, about the rumours that you’ll become the oldest performer ever at next year’s Super Bowl, performing with Lady Gaga…
TB: Well she made a public announcement. She said, “I’d love to have Tony Bennett on this Super Bowl with me.” I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but I’d love to do that [Laughs]. That would be beautiful. She’s a great friend.
MC: Is it important to you to become the oldest performer ever at the Super Bowl, like how you debuted at number one on the Billboard charts when you were 85 – the oldest performer to do that – or is that just icing on the cake of a great career?
TB: I think you word it well. It’s a beautiful icing on the cake. And that’s all it is. It’s something that wow, you don’t expect that. But there it is.
MC: Absolutely. Does performing and recording feel as exciting to you today as it did 50, 60 years ago?