By John Colapinto, AARP | Part One: “It’s Just Another Gift” | On an afternoon in early November, I arrived at Tony Bennett’s home on the 15th floor of a high-rise on the southern edge of New York City’s Central Park. The sprawling three-bedroom apartment’s wall of windows opens on a heart-stopping view of the park and floods the rooms with a steady north light — “a painter’s dream,” as Bennett once said — which matters, because as well as being one of the world’s greatest singers, he is also a serious visual artist. Over the last quarter century, he has spent untold hours in this sanctuary, a converted bedroom turned art studio where I was brought to meet him by his wife, Susan. This was clearly the space of a working artist: the walls papered with sketches, a messy table heaped with brushes and curled paint tubes, an easel by the window holding a work in progress — a black-and-white drawing of the park, the distant buildings expertly evoked with impressionistic flicks of charcoal.
Bennett himself was seated at a desk along one wall, his chair turned toward the windows as he paged slowly through a coffee-table book open on his lap. Nattily dressed in a blue blazer over an open-collared shirt, dark slacks and white running shoes, he was, at 94, startlingly youthful in appearance and instantly recognizable: the blue, heavy-lidded eyes, the iconic Roman nose, the coiffed salt-and-pepper hair. Missing, however, was the easy, ever-present smile that helped brand him the nice-guy singing idol of his generation — more approachable than the volatile Sinatra, or the jokily “drunken” Dean Martin. Instead, his expression had a masklike impassivity that changed only slightly to dim awareness when Susan, a slim, fine-featured 54-year-old, placed a hand on his shoulder, leaned over and said: “This is John, Tone. He’s come to talk to us about the new album.” She spoke into his ear, a little loudly perhaps, in a prompting, emphatic register, as if trying to reach her husband through a barrier that had fallen between him and the rest of the world.
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