Legendary singer Neil Diamond’s thousands of fans were upset to learn that the 77-year-old singer had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in January 2018.
The star was coming to the end of his 50 Year Anniversary World Tour when the announcement was made, leading to the cancellation of the final dates in Australia and New Zealand.
Although he announced his immediate retirement from touring, he said he wasn’t bowing out of the music industry altogether. According to his official website, he intends to continue writing and recording.
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Born in Brooklyn, New York, in January 1941, Diamond had been singing since he was a member of the Freshman Chorus and Choral Club, at Erasmus Hall High School. His family bought him a guitar for his 16th birthday, little knowing that this would be the start of a lifelong career at the top of his profession.
He has had ten number one singles on the US Hot 100 charts, including You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, Song Sung Blue, Cracklin’ Rosie and America. In 1984, he was initiated into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, and later in 2011, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 2000, he won the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2018 he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He has sold more than 100 million records across the world, in a career spanning six decades.
Diamond gave up a promising career as a professional sportsman to become a musician. On leaving high school he was awarded a fencing scholarship as a pre-med major at New York University.
He was a successful member of the university’s fencing team and was also chosen for the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s men’s championship fencing team in 1960. However, he was said to prefer writing song lyrics in class, rather than working.
He attended fewer and fewer classes, instead going by train to see various music publishers to try and interest them in his songs. Eventually, in his senior year, he dropped out of university and took his first job with Sunbeam Music Publishing.
Writing songs for other artists, he was paid $50 a week, equating to around $405 per week in today’s money, which was a considerable income for a young college dropout!
After leaving Sunbeam, his first recording contract was with high school friend Jack Packer. They formed an Everly Brothers-style duo called Neil and Jack and released two singles, starting with You Are My Love at Last, in 1962. Diamond released his first solo single, At Night, in July 1963.
Initially, his lack of commercial success led the 22-year-old to continue writing and selling songs to other people to earn money. He signed a solo deal in 1966 with Bang Records (a subsidiary of Atlantic), releasing Solitary Man – his first solo hit.
This was followed up with two further hit singles, Cherry Cherry and Kentucky Woman, leading to live appearances supporting many leading artists, including Herman’s Hermits and The Who.
Diamond’s career was established as one of the most successful and prolific recording and live artists of the 20th century. He has achieved 37 top 40 hit singles, including his most famous, Red Red Wine in 1967, Sweet Caroline in 1969 and Forever in Blue Jeans in 1979.
Diamond has continued with a gruelling touring and recording schedule for his entire career. In March 2017, he released a compilation album of his most famous tracks, called Neil Diamond 50 – 50th Anniversary Collection.
In April 2017, his 50th-anniversary world tour kicked off in Fresno, California. He had been on the road continually when he went public with his diagnosis of Parkinson’s in January 2018.
The condition was named after James Parkinson, the surgeon who first recognised the symptoms, which include shaking and tremors while resting and while in motion. The condition is caused by changes in the brain cells (neurons) which control movement. They begin to produce less dopamine and this results in the symptoms appearing.
There is no cure for Parkinson’s, although there are treatments including medication that can alleviate the symptoms temporarily, although they will become progressively worse.
In announcing his diagnosis of the condition, Diamond spoke of his “reluctance and disappointment” at having to give up touring. He had already performed live gigs across the US and Europe as part of his 50th-anniversary tour, including in Nashville, New York, London and Hamburg.
In the statement released to announce his retirement, he quoted a line from Sweet Caroline: “This ride has been ‘so good, so good’ – thanks to you.”
Despite his retirement from performing, Diamond played a surprise live show on 28th July 2018. He visited the firefighters’ Incident Command Post in Basalt, Colorado, near his home, to thank them for their brave efforts in fighting and containing the Lake Christine Fire on 3rd July, which burned across 12,000 acres of land. He then played a surprise acoustic concert for the firefighters.
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