On Sunday’s episode of 60 Minutes, Lady Gaga spoke with Anderson Cooper about recently performing with legendary crooner Tony Bennett, who was battling an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and the emotional moment he said her name onstage for the first time “in a long time.”
Lady Gaga joined Bennett on stage in August for two shows at the Radio City Music Hall in honor of his 95th birthday and possibly his last time performing to a crowd. Bennett and Lady Gaga released an album in 2014 titled Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek Live! Bennett’s rep confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the singer’s second collaborative album with Lady Gaga, Love for Sale will be his last studio album and he would not resume his touring schedule.
Bennett and his family revealed in February that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.
In her sit-down with Cooper, Lady Gaga said that during the rehearsals leading up to the shows Bennett did not call her by her name. She explained, “For the first couple of weeks that I saw Tony since COVID, he called me ‘sweetheart,’ but I wasn’t sure he knew who I was.”
The “Born This Way” singer explained that in rehearsals she found new ways to connect with Bennett by asking simple questions as the singer’s brain disease impacts memory. She says she would ask him if he wanted to practice one of his songs and he would easily respond. “When that music comes on [snaps fingers], something happens to him,” she said. “He knows exactly what he’s doing and what’s important for me, actually, is to make sure that I don’t get in the way of that.”
But on the day of the performance, Bennett surprised Lady Gaga in a sentimental moment. 60 Minutes showed a clip of Bennett introducing Lady Gaga by her name when she appeared on stage. “That’s the first time that Tony said my name in a long time,” she recalled. “I had to keep it together because we had a sold out show and I have a job to do. But I’ll tell you when I walked out on that stage and he said, ‘It’s Lady Gaga,’ my friend saw me. It was very special.”
When it was time for Bennett to walk off stage, Lady Gaga approached him and said, “‘Mr. Bennett, it would be my honor if I could escort you off the stage.’ And he said, ‘OK.’ And I did. And just simply being the woman that got to walk him off stage that’s enough for me.”
Lady Gaga told Cooper that Bennett’s final performances is not a “sad story,” but instead “emotional.” “It’s hard to watch somebody change,” she said. “I think what’s been beautiful about this and what’s been challenging is to see how it affects him in some ways but to see how it doesn’t affect his talent. I think he really pushed through something to give the world the gift of knowing things can change and you can still be magnificent.”
Bennett’s wife, Susan, was also interviewed for the segment and confirmed that her husband still recognizes her and his children. “We are blessed in a lot of ways. He’s very sweet,” she said. She also told Cooper that Bennett is not aware of his diagnosis (“He doesn’t know he has it,” she said) but Bennett still knows the words to his songs. As Cooper explained, he can sing a tune without any cue cards or sheet music.
Dr. Gayatri Devi, Bennett’s neurologist, said in the segment that the iconic musician also remembers who he is. “Because he’s a performer…He knows he’s Tony Bennett,” Devi explained. “And he knows how to behave like Tony Bennett.”
Devi said Bennett can remember his profession and his songs because that information stays in “an area of his brain that gives him real meaning and purpose in his life.” She continued, “Music is housed in different parts of the brain, including parts of the brain that deal with emotion. And therefore, it’s easy to be moved by it when you hear it.”
She added, “That’s true of many great people, that they have an over-abiding passion that guides them and everything else is secondary. And for Tony, it’s always been music. And so, it’s no wonder that his brain has pretty much built itself around his music.”
Watch the segment below.
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