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Legendary Tony Bennett dies aged 96

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Tony Bennett/IMAGE SOURCE/GETTY IMAGES Image caption, Bennett had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2016
Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett, the legendary New York pop and jazz singer, has died at age 96.

Bennett was known for songs such as The Way You Look Tonight, Body and Soul, and (I Left My Heart) In San Francisco.

He also collaborated with star performers from Lady Gaga to Aretha Franklin and Frank Sinatra, who called him “the best singer in the business”.

During a career that spanned eight decades, the crooner sold millions of records and won 20 Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award.

His death was confirmed by his publicist, Sylvia Weiner, in a statement to the Associated Press.

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She said he died in his hometown, New York. There was no specific cause of death, but Bennett had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.

Singer Paul Young was among those paying tribute on Twitter, writing: “Ahhh, RIP Tony Bennett, truly one of the greats. An incredible singer live; I saw him many times.

Actor George Takei posted: “Tony Bennett was the last of his kind, a master of the American songbook.

“He may have left his Heart in San Francisco, but he won all of our hearts, from Sinatra to Lady Gaga. Be at peace, and sing to us now from the stars, Tony.”

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Musician Nile Rogers added, “My most heartfelt condolences go out to Tony Bennett’s family and friends.”

Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto to a family of Italian immigrants, Bennett was just 10 years old when his father died, plunging the family into poverty.

As a teenager, he became a singing waiter before enrolling to study music and painting at New York’s School of Industrial Art.

He was drafted into the US Army in 1944 to fight in France and Germany towards the end of World War Two. “It’s legalized murder,” he said of the scarring experience in an interview with the Guardian in 2013.

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After returning home, his singing career continued, first under the name Joe Bari, and his breakthrough came in 1951 with the song Because of You, which gave him his first number one.

Bennett soon became a teenage icon, releasing his first album in 1952. He went on to chart in the US in every subsequent decade of his life, with hits like Blue Velvet and Rags to Riches.

The singer built a reputation for making timeless, swinging pop hits and, later, show tunes and big band numbers.

His 1962 version of a song from the previous decade, I Left My Heart in San Francisco, sent his star into an even bigger orbit, winning him two Grammys.

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Bennett was also a supporter of the civil rights movement and took part in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches while also refusing to perform in apartheid-era South Africa.

However, with the arrival of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the US as the decade rolled on, his relevance faded.

Personal problems followed, including the end of two marriages and drug addiction.

He performed through the pain, recording two records with pianist Bill Evans.

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After hiring his son Danny to become his manager and reuniting with his pianist and musical director, Ralph Sharon, his fortunes began to change.

He enjoyed a revival in the 1980s and 1990s, when Grammy awards flooded in for the star, then in his sixties.

His 1986 comeback album, The Art of Excellence, got the ball rolling again for the star, who had returned to New York from Las Vegas.

He followed it with the chart-topping Perfectly Frank, a tribute to his musical hero Sinatra, before 1994’s MTV Unplugged saw Bennett win the Grammy for album of the year.

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In an interview with the Independent in 2008, Bennett said he had not been surprised by his renewed success.

“Good music is good music,” he said. “I’m not concerned with whether someone who listens to me is old or young. In fact, in many ways, I’m not interested in the young at all.

“I’m interested in age. People learn to live properly when they get older, you know? The late Duke Ellington once said to me that he was really offended by the word category.

“Music has no category; it’s either good or it isn’t, and I sing good songs, great songs, written by the best songwriters. It’s that kind of quality that makes them last. Trust me, people will be singing these songs forever.”

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Bennett remained perpetually cool enough to win over new legions of fans.

He collaborated with a host of younger artists who adored him, including Amy Winehouse, Queen Latifah, and Diana Krall, as well as the likes of Paul McCartney, Elton John, and George Michael, on the 2006 album Duets: An American Classic.

In 2014, his joint album with Lady Gaga, Cheek to Cheek, made him the oldest living act to reach the top of the US charts, breaking his own previous record.

Shortly after his 90th birthday, he told the New York Times, “I could have retired 16 years ago, but I just love what I’m doing.”

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Five years after his 2016 Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Bennett performed his final shows alongside Gaga, with whom, for younger fans, he became closely associated.

He posted on social media at the time: “Life is a gift, even with Alzheimer’s.”

Away from music, as a keen painter, Bennett had his work displayed in galleries.

He also founded the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in his hometown, Queens.

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He is survived by four children: Danny, Dae, Joanna, and Antonia, as well as his wife, Susan Crow.

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