Tony Bennett, Legendary Pop and Jazz Singer, Dead at 96

The musician, who had been quietly living with Alzheimer's disease since 2016, won 20 Grammy Awards

Tony Bennett

Music legend Tony Bennett has died. He was 96.

“Tony Bennett, born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in Astoria, Queens on August 3rd, 1926, has passed away in his hometown of New York City at the age of 96 earlier today. The beloved singer, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2016, is survived by his wife, Susan Benedetto, his two sons, Danny and Dae Bennett, his daughters Johanna Bennett and Antonia Bennett and 9 grandchildren,” his rep told PEOPLE in a statement.

The icon’s family confirmed in January 2021 that Bennett had been quietly living with Alzheimer’s disease since 2016. The revelation came as part of a profile on his life for AARP The Magazine. When news broke of his health,  Bennett was still capable of recognizing his friends and family.

Bennett’s wife, who became his primary caregiver, told the magazine that he was “not always sure where he is or what is happening around him” and that “mundane objects as familiar as a fork or a set of house keys can be utterly mysterious to him.”

His neurologist, Gayatri Devi, said that keeping up with his music has been incredibly beneficial for the Grammy Award winner.

“It kept him on his toes and also stimulated his brain in a significant way,” Devi explained, later adding, “He is doing so many things, at 94, that many people without dementia cannot do. He really is the symbol of hope for someone with a cognitive disorder.”

According to Benedetto, the singer was always in good spirits, even during his journey with Alzheimers. “But that’s because he already didn’t understand,” she told AARP. “He would ask me, ‘What is Alzheimer’s?’ I would explain, but he wouldn’t get it.”

“He’d tell me, ‘Susan, I feel fine.’ That’s all he could process — that physically he felt great,” Benedetto said. “So, nothing changed in his life. Anything that did change, he wasn’t aware of.”

Bennett released his debut single “Because of You” in 1951 and dropped one of his most popular hits, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” in 1962. Over the course of his iconic decades-long career, Bennett amassed 20 Grammy awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001 — he gained recognition in the Grammy Hall of Fame for “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in 1994.

Additionally, the late star won two Emmy awards. In 2019, Bennett was honored with The Library Of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, making him the first “interpretive singer” to win the honor.

Among his countless accolades, the “My Favorite Things” singer also won the GLAAD Media Award for outstanding music album in 2003.

PEOPLE caught up with the star in celebration of his 90th birthday in 2016. “I’m still wide awake!” the iconic artist said at the time. “My doctor likes to kick me out of his office and say, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you — don’t bother me!’ I’m very fortunate.”

“I had a wonderful time growing up in Queens and dreaming about coming to the big city to make it,” Bennett told PEOPLE. “It all happened [in 1962] with my song ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco.’”

Even in his late 80s, Bennett never gave up his dream. He won the Grammy award for best traditional pop vocal album two consecutive years in a row in 2015 and 2016.

“I think being my age, staying in top shape is a first. Usually people are still respected if they show up at 90, but they say, ‘He’s not like he used to be’ and all that. And it’s not happening with me,” Bennett said. “I still have a lot of energy when I hit the stage and I feel blessed about the fact that I’m still going strong. We were always sold out wherever we played throughout my whole career, and it’s a blessing to still have that happen at 90.”

As much as Bennett maintained his young spirit, the star was required to slow down a bit in September 2019 when he contracted a virus and was advised to cancel a slew of upcoming performances in order to recover.

Still, Bennett always kept an active presence amongst his fans across all age groups, even posting on his Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Myspace accounts.

“Dear Lady – I always knew you could do anything at the highest level of artistry,” Bennet shared on Twitter celebrating Lady Gaga for her 2019 Oscar nods. He was 92 at the time. “Congratulations on your Oscar nominations! Love, Tony.”

Lady Gaga isn’t the only pop star Bennett worked with. He also collaborated with many other artists including the late Amy Winehouse, Diana Krall, Michael Bublé, Carrie Underwood and more. In 2016, the star even teased a collaboration with Beyoncé.

“Beyoncé — she’s thinking of something to do with me,” he previously told PEOPLE. “We met at a benefit, and she said, ‘I’ve got an idea that we should do something together.’ She didn’t tell me what it was yet, so we’ll see what happens!”

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