Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett is a legend and an icon. He's also a dear friend. He's helped me in many ways but especially when I had my stroke.

I met Tony years ago and found him to be a great and kind person.  I interviewed him a bunch of times while I was at CBS and that's where our friendship unfolded. It's so funny, me, the rock and roller, and Tony, Frank Sinatra's favorite singer, but the chemistry worked like magic.

I did a show on A&E called Live By Request.

Tony created it and had done it on radio and here's how it worked: someone would call in and tell Tony what one of his songs meant to them, or where they were when they first heard it, maybe who they were with, even how the song had been so important to them and their spouse. Then, Tony would sing that song. A&E brought that concept to television (with viewers calling in), and wanted a female to host it. It was going to run on Valentine's Day and they thought the dynamic between she and Tony would be great. When they brought that idea to Tony, he said, "Mark McEwen should be the host." Three times they suggested a female host and three times he said my name. Tony finally put his foot down, and A&E relented.  That show won an Emmy, and Live By Request ran for seven years.

Tony got me that job.

He also paints. Everyday.  
Tony is very proficient in watercolors. It's not fair that someone who has a voice like his, can paint so well. But that's just how it goes sometimes. One of my prized possessions is the painting of me that Tony did. It hangs in a place of honor in my house. If you look closely you'll see the name Benedetto at the bottom of the painting. That's Tony's given name. Anthony Benedetto. Bob Hope suggested Tony Bennett, and the rest, as they say, is history.

When I had my stroke, it was bad. I could barely believe what had happened. I mean, you read about things happening to other people but never think they will happen to you. The immediate aftermath for this stroke survivor was tough. Rehab, rehab, rehab. Plus a change in lifestyle, exercise, eating healthy, and paying attention to things I never payed attention to before.

And through it all was Tony.

He would call a lot to check up on me. We would talk about all kinds of things, friend to friend, but those calls meant so much. It made me rehab even harder, it helped me to not give up. I wrote a book, Change in the Weather, and as I was finishing up the manuscript the phone rang. It was Tony. He asked me what I was doing and I told him. Pause. He said, "I'd be happy to give you a quote for the  book."

I was flabbergasted.

Tony wrote,"Mark's recovery is not only inspirational but also miraculous!" It's on the back of the book.

When I told my publisher that Tony had given me a quote, I said,  'Do I say Tony Bennett-Singer or maybe Tony Bennett-Legend...?" She said, "I think if you just put Tony Bennett, they'll know who it is."

True that.

Tony is about to tour with Lady Gaga. The lucky one of the two is Lady Gaga.

Actually the lucky one is me.

They say you know who your true friends are when the chips are down. I'd say suffering a stroke qualifies. Tony went nowhere. I'll repeat that. Tony went nowhere.

A dear, dear friend.




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