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Video: Tony Bennett: I wish I could have helped Winehouse

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    >>> one of our favorites, tony bennett . he's won 17 grammy awards during his legendary career and at 86 he's still going strong with his duets album featuring some of today's hottest new stars and has written a new book, "life is a gift, the zen of bennett." tony bennett , welcome back. good to see you.

    >> always good to see you. you're my favorite.

    >> thanks very much, and you're my favorite, too. you wrote your autobiography back in the 1990s , so what did you want to do in this book that you didn't do in that book?

    >> so many young people going into the business, and when rosemary clooney and i started years ago the elder statesman of the entertainment world said it will take you six years before you become a consummate performer, and it was a tough thing to swallow. we had a million selling record, but they were very accurate, so i decided to do a book to the young people that want to get into show business or are in show business , just starting out, and show them that they are supported, and we -- we promote them and hope for the best for them.

    >> i like this idea because so many it seems of these young artists have one big hit and they know it all, and what you're trying to tell them is, no, listen to other people who have travel the road and gained that advice because it's invaluable.

    >> right. it's about longevity rather than quick fame.

    >> some of the people who -- i was looking back at this. in five decades, six decades in the business, you have worked with or known just about every major recording star. you've called most of them friends. you've performed for every president during that time period . is there a moment that still stands out to you, tony, as the pinch me moment.

    >> yeah. it was -- you know, being honored for every valentine's day now in san francisco . it's tony bennett day, and they had a big wonderful moment with 200 children at city hall sang the song for me, and it was one of the great moments in my career.

    >> the variety of people you've worked with over that time, let's talk about a few of them. first of all, can you not talk about you without talking about frank sinatra .

    >> right.

    >> you call him one of your greatest mentors, and he changed your life. just explain to people how he changed your life.

    >> in "look" magazine years ago, the biggest magazine at the time, along with "life." and he said for his money i was the best singer he ever heard and all that, and all of his fans came to see me, and i have been sold out ever since throughout the world. he was a real great friend of mine.

    >> his stamp of approval.

    >> it was that strong.

    >> set you off flying.

    >> right.

    >> and then you go from frank sinatra to people like lady gaga .

    >> right.

    >> and you say wonderful things about her in the book. you write if people allow her to be who she wants to be she could be the next picasso of music.

    >> that's true. she's so talented. a lot of people, they don't realize what a great singer she is. she's actually a magnificent popular singer .

    >> says wonderful things about you, too. in that area of giving out advice in life's lessons you're also honest in this book and you talked about there's a time in your life where you got involved with drugs.

    >> right.

    >> known you for a long time, tony, and you don't see the type.

    >> right. actually i stopped everything, you know, at a certain moment. i realized i was sinning against my talent and i said that's it. i just decided to become a human being again, and i stopped hiding with drugs and all that. i didn't like it.

    >> and you write about people like the late amy winehouse and say you wish you could have had more impact on her.

    >> right. i wish i could have really talked her into it, but it was just the few months later that she died.

    >> if you read this book, tony, it reads as a who's who in entertainment and politics and every other aspect of our lives, and you've been there every step of the way. it's a real pleasure.

    >> that's very nice. great seeing you, always.

    >> tony, always good to see you.

    >> again, the book is "life is a gift." tony bennett .

TODAY books
updated 11/19/2012 9:14:58 AM ET 2012-11-19T14:14:58

For six decades, Tony Bennett has leant his inimitable voice to pop , standards, show tunes, jazz and beyond, sold over 50 million records worldwide and truly led a charmed life. In “Life is a Gift: The Zen of Bennett,” the singer looks back on his extraordinary career and spells out his philosophical outlook on life. Here’s an excerpt.

I've been performing professionally as an entertainer now for over sixty years. Somehow I can’t believe the time has gone by so quickly, yet at other times it seems like six lifetimes. It’s been an amazing journey, and I feel privileged in that I’ve been successful doing what I love for my whole life. Of course there have been many up and downs, which I guess makes me like everyone else — but I can honestly say that I have never failed to try to learn from my mistakes.

I have grown to appreciate the power of believing in myself, and of always having faith in myself. I rarely look back; instead, I always look forward. There is so much of life that we miss when we wallow in regret. It’s important to me to concentrate my energies on all the things I still have yet to learn and experience. As a result, I’ve become a much better person. I’m at peace with myself, and I look forward to each new day.

Video: Tony Bennett sings again on TODAY (on this page)

I was taught never to compromise; to never sing a cheap song. I never look down at the audience and think that they are ignorant, or think that I’m more intelligent than they are. To think otherwise is totally incorrect, and runs contrary to everything I was raised to believe. I was taught by my parents and teachers, who showed me that you should make every move with care, and put the accent on quality. If you apply this philosophy, you will never go wrong. And I have found that, in particular for a performer, the public will pick up on that attitude and will reward you by giving back what you give to them.

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I love entertaining people; I strive to make them feel good, and they make me feel wonderful. To explain it simply, I like what I do, and my ambition is to get better as I get older. That’s really what I’m all about.

To my mind, being in the entertainment business is the best job that anyone could have. I get to travel the world over, meeting interesting people and experiencing many cultures. I’ve become close to artists of all ages in music, art, and the theater. I’ve sung for seven residents, and have performed for royalty. But best of all, I get to meet my fans — the people on the street — face to face. They are the ones that help me stay grounded. I learn more from them than anyone else.

Harper

I’m also lucky because I get to work with my family. I’m blessed with creative children: my eldest son Danny has been my manager for over 30 years, and Daegal produces and engineers my records. My daughter Joanna has dedicated her life to philanthropic endeavors; and my youngest, Antonia, is a talented singer in her own right, and often joins me on tour. My wife Susan has worked with me in realizing my dream of establishing a New York City public high school for the performing arts, and she travels with me wherever I go. Being surrounded by family is very important to me.

It’s such a privilege to be able to do what I do. I’ve always been single-minded about my vocation; I never had to ask, “What am I going to do with my life?” I always knew that I gravitated to singing and painting, because of my family upbringing. Even though we were very poor, my parents placed a high value on the arts.

From an early age, I’ve been blessed by knowing that I wanted to be involved in artistic endeavors. I am acquainted with so many intelligent people who seem to know so much, but I often find that they really have no idea what they want to do with their lives; they have no vision or sense of the bigger picture, and often they lack passion. I guess I’m just lucky that way – I’ve always known that I wanted to sing and paint. I’ve always had this drive – this feeling that I have no choice but to do what I do, for as long as I can remember. And fortunately I’m still in that state right now. I’m grateful that to this day, my passion and thirst for knowledge has continued throughout my entire life.

Video: Tony Bennett, Thalia sing ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ (on this page)

My goal is to improve all the time. Here I am today, at 86, and I’m even more passionate now than ever before. I feel that I’m at the top of my game, and things just keep getting better and better. I’m proud to say that I feel I’ve never worked a day in my life -- and I know that’s because I love what I do.

The Zen of Bennett: Work doesn’t feel like work if you’re passionate about what you do. Do something to improve yourself, every single day. Choose a career that encompasses what you gravitate to naturally, and you’ll have a satisfying lifelong vocation.

Reprinted from “Life is a Gift: The Zen of Bennett” by Tony Bennett with permission from publisher Harper, a division of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright © 2012 by Tony Bennett.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

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