Denise Truscello / WireImage / DeniseTruscello.net
Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 | 11:57 p.m.
Superstar singer Tony Bennett is not only set to celebrate his milestone 90th birthday as a Keep Memory Alive benefit May 21 for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, but he also is committed to its expansion and continuing caregiver program. Tony expects a lineup of incredible recording artists and music friends to join the festivities at the new Las Vegas Arena.
While on the Strip for the recent 100th birthday salute to Frank Sinatra CBS taping at Encore Theater in Wynn Las Vegas, Tony toured the Lou Ruvo Center. He’s become involved as founder Larry Ruvo plans a major expansion of the facility. Architect Frank Gehry has already begun drawings.
Larry pointed out that since opening six years ago, the facility has had 55,000 patient visits and completed more than 40 clinical trials. In August, the National Institutes of Health awarded a grant to the clinic to establish a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence in collaboration with UNLV to tackle the mysteries behind such destructive diseases as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“The grant is testament to the caliber of Las Vegas’ medical research in our state,” Larry said. “We now have to expand this facility. We have maxed out and now have a waiting list. That has to change so we never turn anybody away. With Andrea Bocelli on board to help as our 2015 honoree and now Tony Bennett, who really wants to be involved helping, I am confident we will meet our fundraising goals to get the expansion underway before midyear.”
I’ve known Tony since the late 1970s during my New York City days. He’s always been a great pal, and I joined him at the clinic for his tour and an interview.
So, Tony, a fun question to start: You left your heart in San Francisco, but having walked around this building in Las Vegas, do you think you can now leave your heart here, too?
I’m one of the pioneers of Las Vegas, believe it or not, because I’m 89. I was here when Las Vegas first started; just before the big corporations took over and built these great buildings. To see the change, it’s such a complete city now. It’s really more modern than any city in the United States.
And who would believe that we would have a leading medical facility like this, yards from the Strip, saving people’s lives.
It’s a great step in the city becoming very civilized. For many years, you couldn’t trust any of the doctors who were here originally, and now it’s completely different. This is the best place you can come to for correct help.
While you were walking around this morning taking the tour, what came to your mind?
I remember the original Las Vegas. Now this is completely different — the height of civilization. It’s way ahead of time. This particular building is built to perfection. The acoustics are as good as Carnegie Hall. I could sing right here. But I was most impressed with the doctors and what they are doing.
You now understand the toll that Alzheimer’s is taking on America today. We believe that they will find a cure right here in Las Vegas.
It’s amazing. What a wonderful thing.
You’re going to be a big part of it when you turn 90 — even though you only look 50! How come you’re still so young? Is it from singing?
I’ve always loved what I’ve done right from the early beginning when my Italian American parents and all my relatives said to me that they liked the way I sang and the way I liked to paint flowers. I was 10 years old when I said, “Who am I? What am I going to be doing?”
My family told me that I was good at performing and painting, and it created a tremendous passion in my life that’s continued to this moment where I feel as I get older, I can still get better.
Does music keep you young?
Absolutely. It has to be the right kind of music. I’m a great believer in jazz, which was invented by African Americans. It’s a tremendous art because it’s completely spontaneous and honest. The great thing about it is it never becomes old-fashioned. It stays modern. To this day if you hear a Louis Armstrong record, it sounds like he recorded it yesterday, and that was many years ago.
You’re going to play an important part of the caregiving program here?
Good! I’d love to. I learned a long time ago the importance of giving back. I started doing a lot of benefits throughout my career. At one point people started calling me Tony Benefit instead of Tony Bennett. This particular building we’re in right now is a complete masterpiece, and acoustically I’d actually love to do a concert right here in this building.
At 90 years of age, physically fit and looking as handsome as ever, you are a poster child for the success of aging gracefully.
There’s a lot to it. The whole secret anybody my age is to keep learning, keep growing, keep creating. It’s the opposite of many people when they turn 89, 90 years old. They feel, “Well, I’ve done it all, so I better just relax.” And I think that leads to failure. As long as you’re alive, you should keep learning and be curious and try to figure out what it is that you’re curious about.
What is Tony Bennett most curious about?
I have a dream that someday there will be peace on earth. It’s needed. There are too many guns. It’s become the opposite of civilization as it should be.
So 90 years old in the spring, did you ever think you’d make it to 90? Is 100 now the next goal?
My doctor told me about six weeks ago that I’m completely healthy. I have a wife that treats me very well, makes sure I have proper foods and good rest. I’m sold out all over the world. I can’t ask for a better life. I’ve set a target for more than 100 years old. One of my dreams is to make sure when I’m 100 is to do a concert right here in this beautiful building.
Fantastic! When I saw you at Planet Hollywood with Lady Gaga, I said you are this phenomenal bridge of ages. Nobody else has ever spanned those decades quite like you have. What do you credit?
By performing with Lady Gaga, I’ve gained all the young people who adore her. When she performs with me, she meets all my fans and is accepted by them. So we eliminate the gaps of whether you’re young, whether you’re old.
We’re all here together on this planet and should all respect one another. Her fans got to love me, and my fans got to love Lady Gaga. It’s a great experience reaching everybody, not just one particular age group.
Is she’s going to come to Las Vegas for your celebration and sing “Happy Birthday” to you next May?
I sure hope so. That would be wonderful. I’m really impressed with Lady Gaga. She’s got the young audience. She’s so bright and intelligent and creative, and she doesn’t even realize how wonderful she sings. She sings the great American standards, which never become old. It’s the greatest thing that America has ever contributed to the rest of the world.
Everyone calls it the Great American Songbook. I call it the Great Astaire Songbook because all of those songs — “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Night and Day” — all these beautiful songs were introduced and written for Fred Astaire. Those songs are never going to die. It’s America’s greatest classical music.
Right now Lady Gaga is on the top of my list of a new artist becoming permanent, not fading out. She’s going to surprise everybody. I think Lady Gaga is going to be very big in films. She likes making movies.
From everything that you sing, is there one special favorite — and, if so, why?
I love “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” because it became the biggest song that I ever recorded. It’s about the most wonderful city. I decided that I’m never going to live there because I’ll never have any piece of mind, so I live in New York.
There are two great cities. One is New Orleans and the other San Francisco. They’re both very creative places, and the third is Las Vegas because it’s here where it all happens for entertainers.
Obviously you’re going to have a lot of fun being 90, and a lot of people are going to come and sing “Happy Birthday” and celebrate a remarkable moment in your life. At the same time, it’s important to remember your contribution of giving back and making sure that the great work that goes on here continues. Explain please why it’s important to give back, to contribute and to keep these things alive and well.
The great thing about being a performer is the attempt to make people happy. In my life, that’s how I feel about it. That’s why I never retired. I just think it’s so important when you look at the newspapers and television news, they always bring up negative things that have happened. They figure it’s going to get a rating, and everybody is going to read it.
But there are so many wonderful people who do great things to make the world better, and I think there should be a stronger action in promoting that to reaffirm that life is a gift. It’s a blessing that we’re all alive. We should enjoy life and respect nature.
Since we’re talking Keep Memory Alive, is there one memory from your life that you know you will never, ever forget? What was that one magic moment?
Frank Sinatra was in the great Life Magazine where they talked about his entire life. It was very rare for Frank to talk about it, but then he said that I was his favorite singer. That changed my life because of all of his fans. Ever since then, I’ve been sold out all over the world. He changed my career by saying I was his favorite. Throughout life, he became my best friend.
In Las Vegas, we have celebrated Frank Sinatra’s birthday. We celebrated George Burns’ big birthday, and now we’re going to be celebrating your 90th. How do you feel about that? It’s pretty powerful company from the Top 100 of Entertainment.
I’m very honored to be in that company. I’m thrilled about it; I’m looking forward to it. I understand a lot of entertainers are going to come and celebrate my 90th birthday, so I’m thrilled about it.
I’ve got to know one secret: How much of this is due to pasta and Italian wine?
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The Keep Memory Alive “Power of Love” gala is set for Saturday, May 21, at the new Las Vegas Arena. Details of ticket sales for the concert that follows the Wolfgang Puck dinner will be announced in January.
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.