It’s great to be alive with Tony Bennett

The celebrated singer has retired from the stage, but his art never grew old.

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Tony Bennett sings at Ravinia in Highland Park on August 2008.

Tony Bennett sings at Ravinia in Highland Park on August 2008.

Sun-Times file photo

Some people rent life, others own it. Case in point: Tony Bennett.

For almost 80 years, Bennett sang on a stage, with a joy that said life’s a good thing, and we’re going to miss him now that he’s stopped.

What’s a summer at Ravinia without Tony Bennett?

Bennett’s manager, his son, Danny, announced last week that Tony, who performed two sold-out shows with Lady Gaga just days before, is retiring from performing.

“Doing concerts now is just too much for him,” Danny said. “Tony’s 95.”

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You’d never guess it. That was the thing. Maybe Bennett had his first big hit, “Because of You,” in 1951, way back when you or your parents or your grandparents were very young. But he was always the age of wonder on a stage. He didn’t belong to any one generation as much as he belonged to his art.

Younger performers got it. Which is why Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse, John Mayer and Queen Latifah wanted to sing with him.

Younger listeners got it, too. An awful lot of Tony Bennett fans on the lawn on those Ravinia nights were fresh from their school days.

Bennett sang the old standards, inevitably winding up with “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” but the commitment to his craft never grew old.

Earlier this year, Bennett announced in AARP Magazine that he’s been living with Alzheimer’s disease for the last four years. And his decision to quit performing, his son said last week, was in part on “doctor’s orders.”

If this sounds like a eulogy, forgive us. We don’t mean it that way. Tony Bennett is still with us and, who knows, maybe he’ll slip back into a studio. We hope so.

We just thought we’d like to offer a few words of appreciation, in these stressed-out times, for an American singer who reminded us with every song that it’s great to be alive.

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