Tony Bennett, Legendary Singer, Dead at 96

The legendary singer died in his hometown of New York, just two weeks shy of his birthday.

Music icon and 19-time GRAMMY winner Tony Bennett has died. He was 96.

Bennett's publicist, Sylvia Weiner, confirmed the news of his death in a statement to ET. The legendary singer died in his hometown of New York on Friday, just two weeks shy of his birthday. While there was no specific cause of death named, Bennett had previously been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. 

According to the statement, Bennett often said in later life that he hoped to be remembered "as a nice person." 

In a post shared on Bennett's official Instagram account, a heartwarming detail about his final days at home was revealed. 

"Tony left us today but he was still singing the other day at his piano and his last song was, 'Because of You,' his first #1 hit," the caption reads, alongside a beautiful black and white image of the singer in his younger years. "Tony, because of you we have your songs in our heart forever. ❤

In February 2021, Bennett's family revealed to fans that the legendary musician had been battling Alzheimer's disease and was first diagnosed in 2016. According to the Mayo Clinic, Alzheimer's disease is defined as "a progressive neurologic disorder that causes the brain to shrink (atrophy) and brain cells to die, and is the most common cause of dementia — a continuous decline in thinking, behavioral and social skills that affects a person's ability to function independently."

After hearing of his death, The Alzheimer’s Association released a statement in honor of the music legend. "Following his diagnosis, Bennett was an incredible advocate for the cause, sharing his story publicly to help reduce stigma and elevate the conversation on behalf of the millions of families facing the disease," Joanne Pike, DrPH, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, said in part. "The Alzheimer’s Association joins the world in mourning the loss of Tony Bennett, a great friend and champion of the cause. For decades, Tony inspired the world with his music and, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he continued to use that powerful voice to make a very real difference in inspiring action and change."

She added, "For the Bennett family, and the millions of others impacted by Alzheimer’s and dementia, we will continue our work of increasing awareness and education, providing families support, and advancing research and treatments, to slow, stop and ultimately, cure Alzheimer’s disease."

With more than 70 years in music, Bennett built a life that was lightyears away from his upbringing. Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto on Aug. 3, 1926 in Astoria, Queens, New York, he was the first among his siblings, John and Mary, to be born in a hospital. Having been raised in the throes of the Great Depression, Bennett came up in a poor household, with his mother working as a seamstress and his father as a grocer. The family's financial strain worsened after his father died when Bennett was 10 years old.

As a teenager, Bennett dropped out of high school and worked as a singer and waiter to help support the family. He went on to serve in the Army infantry during the tail end of World War II and used the GI bill to pay for his college education at the American Theatre Wing where he studied singing. Splitting his time between school and working as a waiter, Bennett learned different singing styles and booked small performances. In 1949, Emmy-winning actress and singer Pearl Bailey hired him as her opening act for a performance in Greenwich Village. Bob Hope happened to be seated in the audience and opted to take Bennett on the road. It was Hope who encouraged him to shorten his birth name -- Anthony Dominick Beneditto -- to the stage moniker: Tony Bennett.

Bennett’s music career began to take shape in the 1950s with the hits "Jeepers Creepers," "Chicago," and the collaborative album with Count Basie, Strike Up the Band. In 1962, Bennett released "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," a single that became a staple in his music catalog, and earned him his first GRAMMY. While the song's popularity paved the way for others hit singles like "I Wanna Be Around" and "The Good Life," Bennett’s career stalled as contemporary rock began to dominate music -- and his personal life wasn’t doing much better. In 1969, his first wife, Patricia Beech, from whom he had been separated for five years, sued him for divorce on grounds of adultery. Beech and Bennett had two sons, Danny and Daegal. The divorce was finalized in 1971, and Bennett moved on to a relationship with Sandra Grant, an aspiring actress whom he wed that year. The couple moved from New York to Los Angeles and welcomed two daughters, Joanna and Antonia.

As Bennett's career grew, so did his struggles with Columbia Records. At the time, The Beatles were taking over music, and the record label wanted Bennett to branch out into a rock sound. Bennett cut ties with Columbia in the early '70s and founded his own imprint, Improv Records, under which he recorded The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album and Together Again. Despite critical acclaim, the albums failed to produce any major hits which in turn forced the label out of business by the close of the decade. 

Subsequently, Bennett took a break from the music business, and Bennett and Grant divorced in 2007. That year, he wed his third wife, Susan Crow. The couple remained together until Bennett's death.

In 1986, Bennett -- who was being managed by his oldest son, Danny -- resigned with Columbia Records and unveiled The Art of Excellence, his first album in a decade. With his son’s help, Bennett saw a resurgence. He made the rounds on the late-night circuit, appearing on David Letterman and Jay Leno’s shows, guest starred on The Simpsons, and parlayed his MTV Unplugged performance into a GRAMMY win. 

Bennett released multiple albums throughout the ‘90s, including Perfectly Frank, a holiday LP, and a project of children’s songs titled Tony Bennett: The Playground.

But choosing the perfect collaborations was his sweet spot. He worked with k.d. Lang on the GRAMMY-winning album A Wonderful World, followed by The Art of Romance, Duets: An American Classic, which marked his 80th birthday, and Duets II, featuring Lady Gaga as well as Amy Winehouse’s final recording prior to her death in 2011. The Winehouse duet netted a GRAMMY for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. The following year, Bennett released Viva Duets, a Latin-themed project with appearances from Gloria Estefan and Marc Anthony. 

Bennett also filmed the documentary, The Zen of Bennett, chronicling the recording process of Duets II, and reteamed with Gaga for 2014’s Cheek to Cheek, which earned the first in another trio of consecutive GRAMMYs for Bennett. Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern and Tony Bennett Celebrates 90 won GRAMMYs for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album in 2016 and 2018. Bennett’s last studio album was Love Is Here to Stay

He won his last GRAMMY Award for his final album, 2021's Love For Sale, which was a collaborative effort with Lady Gaga.

On top of all this, Bennett was a published author, a Kennedy Center Honors recipient, a philanthropist, and a talented painter whose work has been featured in the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

The beloved singer, doting husband and loving father is survived by his wife, Susan Benedetto, his two sons, Danny and Dae Bennett, his daughters, Johanna Bennett and Antonia Bennett, and nine grandchildren.