June 15, 2024

A History With Alzheimers and More

Legendary singer Tony Bennett has died aged 96, just a few weeks shy of his 97th birthday. Bennett had been public about his health struggles before his death, with his family sharing in 2021 that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years earlier.

Bennett’s death was confirmed to TODAY.com in a statement from his publicist, Sylvia Weiner.

Bennett died in the early morning of July 21, 2023, in his hometown of New York City. His singing career spanned 70 years and included collaborations with artists such as Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse. As well as being a musician, painter and philanthropist, Bennett was also an infantry soldier in World War II, where he helped liberate a Nazi concentration camp. After his experience in the war, he stood firm against violence and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. at Selma in 1995. He was also open about his experiences with drugs and the negative impact they had on his life.

How did Tony Bennett die?

It is unclear how Tony Bennett died based on the statement to TODAY.com from his publicist. The statement mentioned her seven-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Tony Bennett, born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in Astoria, Queens on August 3, 1926, died in his hometown in New York at the age of 96 earlier today,” said the statement. “The beloved singer, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2016, is survived by his wife, Susan Benedetto, his two sons, Danny and Dae Bennett, his daughters Johanna Bennett and Antonia Bennett and 9 grandchildren.”

Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia, can lead to complications leading to death, according to the Mayo Clinic. Loss of brain function resulting from the condition can lead to dehydration, malnutrition or infection over time, which can be fatal.

Bennett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016

In 2021, the singer’s family said he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease five years earlier. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain condition with no cure that causes the brain to shrink and cells to die. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, where a person may lose their memory, cognitive function and social skills, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Bennett’s family shared the news of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis with AARP Magazine in the spring of 2021. At the time, they said he could still recognize family members but struggled to understand what was happening around him. His wife, Susan Benedetto, who was also his primary caregiver, said he had no concerns that he would run away from their apartment or struggle with rage or other emotions that may come with the illness.

“He’s doing so many things, at 94, that a lot of people without dementia can’t do,” his neurologist, Dr. Gayatri Devi, told AARP.

“I have my moments and it gets really hard,” Susan said. “It’s no fun arguing with someone you don’t understand. But I feel bad talking about it because we are much luckier than so many people with this diagnosis. We have such a good team.”

his daughter, Antonia Bennett, opened for NBC affiliate WKYC in November 2022 under the diagnosis of her famous father. She said she could tell something was off starting in 2015.

“I started to realize that when we would talk about the events of our lives together, he would delete large parts of it or make up his own story about it. I started to realize that maybe this wasn’t so normal,” said Antonia Bennett.

She added that she thinks her father’s love of music has helped him manage his Alzheimer’s: “He’s so good at going with the flow, and I attribute that to what he does for a living. He is a musician. He has been traveling for years and it shows up. He is so professional.”

On June 20, 2023, Bennett shared a photo of himself with his wife on Twitter to support Alzheimer’s disease research.

The last few times Bennett was seen in public in New York City, he was in a wheelchair.

He spoke openly about his drug addiction

Bennett wrote in his 1998 memoir, “The Good Life,” that he was isolated by drugs in the ’70s when he and his family moved to Hollywood. At the time, he was married to his second wife, Sandra Grant.

“On top of everything else, the drug scene in the seventies was getting out of control,” he wrote. “At every big party I’d go to, people were high on something. The cocaine was flowing as easily as champagne, and I started getting into the festivities early. At first, it seemed like the hip thing to do, but as time went on it was harder and harder to turn it down when it was offered. In addition to my pot-smoking, the whole thing started to get in my eyes.”

He later wrote that the fatal overdose of his friend and fellow musician Bill Evans “made me think hard about my own drug use. I knew something had to be done somehow.”

Bennett stopped using drugs, however. He considered this option i 2016 interview with the San Diego Tribune.

“When I was younger, I was silly,” he said. “I did a lot of drugs and all that. And then I learned, from experience, that I wasn’t doing the right thing, and I stopped (taking) all kinds of stimulants that are very bad for you. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I have a natural life. I have nothing to hide or stay away from.”

And he was struggling with depression

After divorcing his first wife, Patricia Beech, Bennett wrote in his 2016 memoir, “Just Getting Started,” that he began to suffer depression.

“The Christmas season of 1965 was the worst I had lived in since I was 10 years old and my father died. My wife, Patricia, and I had a rift. I was not welcome at our family home in New Jersey, and I lost my two sons. I was living in a small gray room without a spirit in the Gotham Hotel and I felt sad, depressed and lonely, anyone I was very ashamed and embarrassed to admit. .”

In the late 70s, he wrote in his memoirs that he was dealing with numerous stresses, especially struggling with his career and spending too much money, which led to the IRS coming knocking at his door.

“The pressure was becoming too much for me, and I began to experience long bouts of depression,” he wrote.

Bennett almost died of a drug overdose

When he learned that the IRS was beginning proceedings to take his home away, he wrote that he was “overwhelmed and quickly realized I was in trouble.”

“I tried to calm myself by taking a hot bath, but I must have given up. And I experienced what some call a near-death experience; the golden life enveloped me in a warm glow. It was quite peaceful. … But suddenly, I was jolted by the vision.”

“The tub was overflowing and Sandra was standing over me. She heard the water running too far, and when she got in, I wasn’t breathing. She pounded on my chest and revived me.”

“As I rushed to the hospital, the only thought on my mind was something my former manager Jack Rollins told me about Lenny Bruce right after Lenny died from an overdose. All Jack said was, ‘The man sinned against his talent.’ That hit home. I realized I was throwing it all away, and I was determined to clean up my act.”

He later opened up about this moment and the impact Rollins’ quotes had on him in a 2011 interview with CNN.

“That sentence did it for me. I realized that I thought I was doing well with the drugs and I really wasn’t,” he said. “I realized that I am sinning against the gift that nature gave me. … It really stopped me cold. I didn’t withdraw. I had no recovery period. The moment I stopped it, I felt relief. I felt normal. I didn’t have to hide by smoking or doing other naughty things. Suddenly, I was honest.”

His music helped him overcome many of his health problems

Bennett noted in “Just Getting Started” that listening to Duke Ellington in the lobby of the Gotham Hotel helps pull him out of his depression after his first divorce. And when he later struggled with depression following his financial and professional struggles in the ’70s, a refocus on music with the help of his son Danny Bennett helped turn his life around.

He continued to function as well until the pandemic in 2020, several years after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Sometimes he would struggle backstage, but when he started performing, few people could tell he was sick, AARP reported.

“Singing is everything to him,” Bennett’s widow, Susan Benedetto, said AARP in 2021. “Everything. He saved his life many times. Many times. Through divorces and stuff. If he ever stops singing, that’s when we’ll know.”

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