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Tony Bennett dead at 96 in his hometown of New York: ‘Good Italian stock’


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Tony Bennett, the legendary pop, jazz and big-band vocalist, has died after a seven-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 96.

Publicist Sylvia Weiner confirmed Bennett’s death, revealing he passed away in his hometown of New York. His official cause of death — just two weeks shy of his 97th birthday — has not yet been announced.

“I come from good Italian stock — but I’ve tried to stay fit through the years,” Bennett told me nearly 20 years ago.

At the time he was a spry 72, meeting and greeting concertgoers with swagger before a benefit performance in the blazing hot Sonoran Desert of Tucson, Ariz.

For two decades beyond that, the 20-time Grammy winner kept swinging as smoothly as ever — making history as one of the only artists to chart new albums in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and the first three decades of the 21st century.

Anthony Dominick Bennedetto was born into a poor family of Italian immigrants living in Astoria, Queens, on Aug. 3, 1926. His father Giovanni, a grocer, died 10 years later, forcing his seamstress mother Anna Maria to find new ways to win bread amid the Great Depression.

It wasn’t long before little Tony was cashing in with his vocal chords, performing at the opening of the Triborough Bridge in 1936. The legendary baritone belter was a tender tenor way back then, and reportedly received pats on the head from Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.

While attending the High School of Industrial Arts, the teen realized he wanted to be a professional singer — but also started training for his other lifelong artistic passion: Painting. (Decades later, his one-time hobby became a very classy — and lucrative — side hustle.)

He took a career hiatus to serve in World War II. After returning home, he was discovered in 1949 by Bob Hope — working with Pearl Bailey at a Greenwich Village club — and signed a deal with Columbia Records.

The 25-year-old entertainer now rechristened as Tony Bennett scored his first No. 1 hit in 1951 with “Because of You,” sparking seven decades of chart success.

Well over a half-century after it hit the charts, Bennett said he never got sick of singing his 1962 signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

The 25-year-old entertainer now rechristened as Tony Bennett scored his first No. 1 hit in 1951 with “Because of You,” sparking seven decades of chart success.

But there were indeed dark times.

Bennett revealed in the 2011 book “All The Things You Are: The Life of Tony Bennett” that multi-pronged addictions left him broke, “drug addled” and near death.

Bennett also confessed to snorting cocaine and smoking marijuana in a “reckless effort” to forget his financial woes in the 1970s and ’80s.

“I was in a completely self-destructive tailspin. I used to take pills — uppies, downies and sleepies,” he said. “I owed something like $1.2 million, which was a fortune in those days. At least half of it was in back taxes I couldn’t afford to pay.”

But he bounced back like a pro, defying the pop culture odds to win over the “I want my MTV” generation with the help of his famously protective, career-saving new manager: Son Danny Bennett, now 69.

“I’ve always been unplugged,” Bennett quipped as he took the “MTV Unplugged” stage in 1994. His comeback recording of these interpretations of classics went on to surpass platinum (million-selling) status and won the Grammy for 1995’s Album of the Year.

Fast-forward through decades of Billboard bows and Grammy wins: One of America’s last legit living legends stayed busy promoting a 2014 duets album with Lady Gaga — and maintaining an international fine arts career.

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