In his first detailed interview since revealing his plight two weeks ago, he said his gigging and recording schedule will carry on as usual.
The 79-year-old – famed for early 1970s’ hits Las Vegas, I Did What I Did For Maria, and Is This The Way to Amarillo – is about to travel to Nashville to record new music and will tour the UK in the spring.
He said: “I was a little bit down but I thought, ‘I can still work, it’s not affecting my singing, my voice, my show’. As long as I can get on that stage and do what I was born to do.
“I’m used to working, it’s daunting when I don’t work. And I love the music – it is good for what I have got, it’s medication. Whatever this is, we will deal with it.”
But it is clearly difficult for this energetic man to consider the long-term. There might be a time when he can no longer perform or remember his beloved wife of 55 years, Sue, 74, or their three children and seven grandchildren.
He said: “That’s the only worry, but I trust Sue. That’s one of the things that keeps me going and stops me worrying.”
What’s more, if he forgets all his lyrics there is one song he’ll always get some help with. “I don’t have to sing Amarillo, the crowd sings it anyway!” he laughed.
Yorkshire lad Tony, who now lives in Lichfield, Staffordshire explains the first sign of his dementia was noticing his usually sharp recall had gone.“I would be the one people would ask ‘who did this? who recorded that?’ – I knew everything.
“I was suddenly thinking ‘I used to know this, I used to know that’. Sue had to remind me of the name of someone I had known for 60-odd years. And my hobby was doing cryptic crosswords, I did them for 50 years. Now I can’t answer them all.”
Two years ago, he and Sue decided to go to the doctor, and within a few weeks tests revealed a small build up of “plaque” on Tony’s brain.
But the singer believes higher powers are supporting him. He says: “I always ask the angels to help me, it gets me through.
“Every time before I go on stage I spend ten minutes on my own speaking to the angels, ‘thank you for everything, please help me through this show’. And it works. All I ask is let me do what I am here to do, let me go on stage.”
The first medicine doctors prescribed to slow the dementia’s development made Tony fatigued.
But the second medication has worked brilliantly, improving Tony’s condition. The couple are hopeful for new drugs. Tony’s one concession to the disease is to run lyrics on an autocue, but he says he doesn’t regularly need them.
He urges anyone with symptoms to get checked. He said: “I’m glad it all came out. If it helps other people with the same problem and makes them go and get on some tablets that will help, that’s what we hope will happen.”
Thankfully his long-term memory is still clear and he can recall his long career. After his big three hits and a slot on pal Des O’Connor’s TV show Las Vegas came his way. Tom Jones’ manager had turned it down – much to Tom’s horror when Tony told him.
But fame did not linger in the UK, although it persisted in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Tony though, never had a big ego. His recollections touch on big stars who did not know him. John Lennon once rudely asked him to move his car from outside an LA studio.
And The Who drummer Keith Moon asked to borrow £20 in a Park Lane club, never to be seen again. Tony recalled: “He says ‘they won’t let me have a tab’. He didn’t know who I was.” But the public do. The crooner reached a new audience when Peter Kay mimed to Amarillo for Comic Relief in 2005, taking it to Number One where it stayed for seven weeks.
The Queen confided to him the Royals often play it at family parties.
He added: “I was walking through town the other day and all these school kids were walking behind me singing it,” he laughs. I joined in.”
When he turns 80 in April, he plans to do a gig on his birthday. The show must, and will, go on.
- Dementia UK is a specialist nursing charity and offers support to anyone impacted by dementia, offering a free helpline and clinics with specialist Admiral Nurses. Tony supports their ‘I live with dementia’ campaign. Visit dementiauk.org.