Tony Bennett, legendary singer and jazz and Broadway star known for his signature voice and classics like “Rags to Riches” and “The Way You Look Tonight,” died Friday morning in New York City. He was 96.
Though no cause of death has been released, Bennett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2016. It’s not known at this time whether that diagnosis played a part in the famed singer’s death.
Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto on August 3, 1926, Tony Bennett was an Italian-American singer who carried within his soul a deep love for show tunes, jazz, and Broadway, and his iconic voice was familiar and adored by millions worldwide throughout the course of his decades-long musical career.
Bennett sold more than 50 million records worldwide, but his contributions to the music industry didn’t end with his voice talents. The Queens, New York native was the son of a grocer and a seamstress who began his musical career as a singing waiter in Italian restaurants in the borough when he was only 13 years old. In 1950, just a few years after serving in World War II, Bennett was signed with Columbia Records by industry pro Mitch Miller.
Bennett’s talents earned him 19 Grammy Awards and two Primetime Emmy Awards. He was also named an NEA Jazz Master, as well as a Kennedy Center Honoree, and he founded the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria, Queens, New York, in 2001–the same year the talented musician was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Before ever setting foot in the California city, Bennett rehearsed a song with which he would forever be linked–“I Left My Heart in San Francisco”–but no one could have imagined the success the famed crooner would have because of the song and his unique rendition of it. “When I got to San Francisco,” Bennett explained, “at rehearsal, I started singing it, and everybody ran up to me and said, ‘You’ve gotta record this song.'” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Bennett recorded “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” for his record titled, Once Upon a Time (1962), but the song was released on the B-side of the album–the lesser side of the album, one might have explained in the 1960s. But it was that song that ultimately won a Grammy for Record of the Year, and Bennett earned a Grammy for his performance of the song. From then forward, it served as almost a trademark for the singer.
“Most artists that are connected with one famous thing, they get upset,” Bennett explained during an interview on Sunday Morning. “Why should it just be one thing? What about all the other things that I do? But I feel different. I love ‘San Francisco,’ the song. I sing it every night like it was the first time I ever sang it.”
Bennett amassed several Disney credits during his career as well. He seemed to have a connection with The Muppets, having appeared in an episode of Muppets Tonight (April 12, 1996), and in 2014, he had a cameo appearance in Muppets Most Wanted alongside Miss Piggy and Lady Gaga during the opening song, titled “We’re Doin’ A Sequel.”
Tony Bennett is also mentioned in The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, as well as in Turning Red by Mr. Gao during a scene from the animated film in which the Lee family performs a ritual to send Mei Lee to banish her red panda spirit. Bennett’s song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” was also featured in Disney’s Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco.
Fans can see the Muppets Tonight episode, featuring Tony Bennett as an animatronic version of himself–the only one of its kind, mind you, in the video below.