Anka recorded his first No. 1 single, "Diana," in 1957 when he was just 15, the same age Bieber was in 2009 when he released his first hit, "One Time." They share a birthplace, too: Ontario, Canada.
"There's always been screaming girls, you know?" Anka says when asked to compare himself with the increasingly troubled teen idol. He has followed Bieber's career, but worries about the constant media attention that accompanies young stars. He's glad he shot to fame decades earlier.
"There are too many people coming from left and right at these kids, and I don't know that they can handle it," he says. "Along with the success there's going to be some rejection, some failure. I learned more in my work from my failure, not my success, and I don't know that they're doing that. These kids fall apart."
Bieber would do well to listen to Anka. As showbiz storytellers go, the guy is tough to beat. His string of big hits, including "Puppy Love" and "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," began when he was a teen; by mid-career, he settled in as a headliner in Las Vegas and tagged along with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack.
Anka has penned some of the most famous pop songs of all time, for artists as diverse as Buddy Holly and Michael Jackson. And he's about to be red-hot again: His new autobiography, My Way, and new album, Duets, hit stores this April. (See a video at the bottom of this page about Anka's duet with Michael Bublé.) His summer tour begins in May.
"I've lived a life, that's for sure," Anka says, with the knowing chuckle of a man whose career has bridged two centuries.
Here, in his words and ours, are 10 facts of that life you may be surprised to learn.
1. At 16, he joined the "Biggest Show of Stars" tour with the likes of Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. He wrote a song for Holly, "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," just before the singer died in a plane crash. It was a posthumous hit. Anka gave his royalties from the song to Holly's widow.
Buddy was a heavy influence, but he was more of a friend. He was around my age, we started in the music business together. We appreciated each other.
2. In 1962, little-known comic Johnny Carson asked him to write the theme song for a new version of Tonight on NBC.
I was doing a show in England and I needed some comic relief from all the music and I hired Johnny. I kept in touch with him, and he ended up in New York and called me and said, "I've got this TV show that I'm going to be doing for maybe a couple of years — ha ha ha — and can you write me a new theme?" Who knew it would be on that long, five days a week? I got paid every time it got played.
3. As rock 'n' roll became popular, his throwback style led him to the place that would define the rest of his career: Las Vegas.
It's become a big Disneyland. It's corporate. It's shorts and sandals. I knew it when everybody was in shirt-and-tie and it was Mafia-driven and it had a great sense of style. I look at it really with a smile on my face. From the beginning, I watched this whole journey, this whole circus. It's cool, you know?
Next page: Why he idolized Frank Sinatra. »