Home Age Senior Planet talks to…Tony Orlando

Senior Planet talks to…Tony Orlando

by Editor

After 64 years spent on the road, singing legend Tony Orlando is ready to quit touring – on the eve of his 80th birthday.

Just 16 when he became an overnight pop sensation with hit songs Bless You and Halfway to Paradisehe teamed with vocalists (collectively known as Dawn) for further hits with Knock Three TimesTie a Yellow Ribbon and Candida, Tony tells SENIOR PLANET about his extraordinary life:

Q: This is your farewell tour. Why are you giving up something you love so much?

TONY: Well, It’s been 64 years of love – and that’s a long time. I’m two years younger than Paul McCartney, so when you’re two years younger than a Beatle, you stay young. But touring is different these days – all the travel, the overhead, the expense to go on the road, the airports, the delays, the cancellations – those are the things that are work. The shows are easy so I’m only retiring from touring. I’m not retiring from show business.

Q: Do you have plans?

TONY: Yes, my brother David and I just wrote a Broadway show with Grammy winner Michael Omartian, so hopefully we’ll get that on. I’ve written two screenplays and I’m looking forward to writing another book. I’d like to do some motivational speaking. And I will continue to do shows for the veterans that I’ve worked for, for over 50 years. So it really is a touring retirement.

Q: How you feel about turning 80 on April 3 and how will you celebrate?

TONY: As quietly and as alone as I possibly can. I’ve never been a birthday boy. I get embarrassed with all the Happy Birthday To You stuff. And it’s not about age. I’m not worried about becoming 80. It’s just another number to me.

Q: Is your wife Francine understanding?

TONY: My wife is understanding of just about everything really. We’ve been married 33 years and I’ve known her 50 years. So we know each other pretty well. She’s perfectly supportive with whatever I do.

Q: What’s the secret to your long happy marriage?

TONY: I think marriage takes work. I think if anybody’s really honest, it’s two people living together for the rest of their lives. It takes an understanding and I think the key to it all is: Before you go to bed, if there’s an argument, somebody apologizes. I don’t think you should go to sleep angry or in a disagreement; solve it if you can.

Q: What do you do for exercise and nutrition to be in great shape to go on the road?

TONY: I’ve been out of shape for a long time. I’ve had a weight problem all of my life. When I did the Tony Orlando and Dawn TV show I was 170lbs but – one year before that – I was 270lbs. So sometimes I’m thin and sometimes I’m not. Right now, I’m entering into the thin zone.

Q: So how are you changing things?

TONY: Well, right now, according to my doctor, I need Ozempic. I’m borderline diabetic because of my weight so I’m able to get that prescription and it is helping me lose the weight. It stops me from feeling hungry so I’m able to say no to the sweets. The 2000 pounds of weight loss over my lifetime was always based on just cutting out carbs. So I know what to do – its just that sugar to me is like a drug. And sometimes I get drug happy with sugar. So right now I’m in a not interested in sugar state of mind so I’m losing weight and feeling better.

Q: What’s your exercise routine?

TONY: I hate exercise and I don’t go to the gym. But I do a pretty good burning calories type of show. If you came up on stage with me for the whole two hours, you would see.

Q. What are your fondest memories of your showbiz pals?

TONY: I had a nice relationship with Elvis, because we both worked the Las Vegas Hilton at the same time – he would close and I would open the next day or vice versa.  We would spend time in the dressing room together. In fact, I went to see Frankie Valli who has been a 62 years friend of mine just recently in that very hotel in Las Vegas, and Barry Manilow worked there too.

When I went backstage, it was deja vu. I remembered every moment with Elvis there. And as a matter of fact, there’s a piece of stage that was lifted up by Colonel Tom Parker and given to me for a young Elvis impersonator who was in one of my plays that I wrote. And he signed it to him and said: You’re not an imitation of Elvis. You a tribute to Elvis. And I gave it to this young man, and I saw that piece of stage still gone. So they have a sense of history in that hotel. I thought about all the times I spent with Elvis and Liberace there. I’ve been fortunate to have the same friends that I had 62 years ago – like Frankie Valli – still to this day, and never had a bump in the road.

Q: What do you remember about Elvis?

TONY: I recorded a song called Halfway to Paradise in 1961 when I was 16 years old.  The song was a big hit in the States. One day I get this note, saying, “I have your song Half Way To Paradise in my jukebox” signed Elvis. And it was on such a crappy little piece of paper that I threw it away, I thought somebody was just messing with me and years later I’m in the dressing room with Elvis and Priscilla. And I said, “Elvis, I got a note when I was 16 years old. I knew it wasn’t from you.” He says, “Are you crazy? Don’t throw that note away!” Then Priscilla came in the dressing room and said “Tony, not only did he have it on his jukebox. But he sits at the piano and plays it all the time”.

Q: You grew up in Hell’s Kitchen with a Greek dad and Puerto Rican mom. How did your childhood influence your love of music?

TONY: My house was full of music. My grandfather – my mother’s father – was the first trumpet player in the Desi Arnaz orchestra and was head of Local 802 for Latin musicians in New York. My mother and her sisters had a singing group so I heard harmonies and singing all my life. My dad didn’t sing but he loved music.

When I was about ten years old, I saw Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain and a light bulb went off and I knew I wanted to be in show business – just watching this man dancing and splashing in the rain and singing that wonderful song and flying around a lamppost. When I left that theater, lo and behold, it was a raining. And on 23rd Street in New York City, I started kicking the puddles and singing Singing in the Rain.

Many years later, we had a wonderful tribute to Gene Kelly, and I got to meet him at The Friars Club. I said: “Mr. Kelly, I was the only kid in my neighborhood that always had one wet left foot!” and told him how I kicked the puddles and sang Singing in the Rain. And that was really the beginning – between that and singing doo-wop on street corners and on my rooftop. I’ve been blessed with that dream come true.

Q: What’s your favorite song?

TONY: Those hits become your children so there’s no favorite in the family. But you have to pay respect to the first hit because that’s the one that set you up on your dream. So if I had to put it in order, I would have to say Halfway to Paradise in 1961 – a 16-year-old dreaming kid up a rooftop singing doo-wop finds himself with a number one record, not only here, but around the world. So Halfway to Paradise and Bless You both hold that place in my heart. Then has to be Candida, the first of the Tony Orlando and Dawn hits. So I say: First child, healthy and well, and the rest are all equally lovable.

Q: What is your secret to aging with attitude?

TONY: I think if you start examining aging today as compared to 30 or 50 years ago, people have changed their point of view about getting older. When you look at Mick Jagger work the stage – I don’t think he’s thinking about being older than Tony Orlando. So I don’t think of myself as being an old person. Sometimes in the morning I do or going through the airport I definitely do. And I think that generally today people think younger, especially in my business where there’s an automatic shift in the gear to think young. So showbiz and music keeps me young. I’m around young people, young thinkers, versus being around elderly people.

NB: Tony’s Farewell Tour details can be found at his website; upcoming dates include New Jersey and Connecticut.

For more information, his albums and more, check out his website, TonyOrlando.com.

Photo: Travis Howard.

Gill Pringle began her career as a rock columnist for popular British newspapers, traveling the world with Madonna, U2 and Michael Jackson. Moving to Los Angeles 27 years ago, she interviews film and TV personalities for prestigious UK outlets, The Independent, The i-paper and The Sunday Times – and, of course, Senior Planet. A member of Critics Choice Association, BAFTA and AWFJ, she wrote the screenplay for 2016 Netflix family film, The 3 Tails Movie: A Mermaid Adventure. An award-winning writer, in 2021 she was honored by the Los Angeles Press Club with 1st prize at the NAEJ Awards.

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