Q: One of the more poignant elements of the album is, of course, you did a duet with Amy Winehouse, who had a history of drug and alcohol abuse and who died in July.
Q: Tell me about her as a singer and, to the extent you were around her, as a person. For someone like yourself, who's had such a long, rich career, to see someone go at 27 — there must be a painful element to that.
Way back in my career, about 60 years ago, Pearl Bailey started me out. And she said, "Tony, you gotta look out for one thing. Make sure you don't get too much helium in your brain. Keep your feet on the ground." But even with that, there's something about success and youth and fashion and the way things are — drugs, you know — so I dabbled in it. (Bennett's published memoirs refer to frequent cocaine and marijuana use.) There was a kind of a funny period in my career, and I hired Woody Allen's manager, Jack Rollins. He was talking to me and he said, "You know, I used to handle Lenny Bruce." I said, "What did you think of him?" And he said one sentence that changed my life. He said, "He sinned against his talent." That changed my whole life. I went back and I really meditated on that one sentence: He sinned against his talent. He sinned against his talent.
And I stopped everything. It's the best move I ever made, because I didn't have to hide anymore. I thought I was singing great on stage and I wasn't. It wasn't that good. And by stopping, my whole career changed for the better. When I was on the drug, I wasn't sleeping well, having insomnia. It just was incorrect. The fact that I stopped proved to me that if you're just normal, you're so much healthier and you have longevity that way. If you never give up on yourself, and you believe in yourself, and you work hard to get better as you go along. Luckily, I've been passionate about my performance, about being in the arts. I keep studying it every day.
So I wanted to tell Amy, I wanted to talk to her and her dad about what happened to me, and how I stopped and how it helped. Everybody loved her so much. Her fans really loved her. They were all rooting for her. And she was such a sweet child. And it was so tragic that she died so young. My son Dan called me up and told me that she died. I couldn't believe it. So her father called me. He's starting a foundation for young people in Britain to stop taking drugs. And so I have relinquished my royalties (on his duet with Winehouse on Duets II) to that foundation.
(Official establishment of the Amy Winehouse Foundation has been delayed by a legal dispute in London. An autopsy released in August found no drugs in Winehouse's body at the time of her death.)
Coming Thursday: Tony talks about the huge talent of Lady Gaga and unveils, exclusively to AARP, video of his duet with Andrea Bocelli.