In the 1970s, Tony Bennett’s career and life were in disarray.

He performed mostly in Las Vegas, a declining city that stuck him to a bygone era. His music was out of style – his last Top 40 single was in 1965. He used cocaine heavily. And his finances were in shambles, prompting the Internal Revenue Service to threaten to take his home.

Well in the 1980s, it seemed like everything went wrong for the singer.

Then came a comeback for the ages.

The rebirth of Mr. Bennett, who died Friday, ensured that he would remain one of the most revered singers of American popular music for generations to come. And he did it while staying true to his calling as a champion of the standards known as the Great American Songbook.

Mr. Bennett managed a career resurgence in the late 1980s and ’90s without changing much about his music. All it took was meeting members of a new audience where they were: late-night talk shows, a cameo on “The Simpsons” and a memorable performance on “MTV Unplugged” in 1994 that led to constant airplay on the network and a surprise Grammy for album of the year.

Generation X, which appreciated the authenticity of indie and grunge rock, was ready for the unadorned voice of 60-something Tony Bennett.

“That period was, in fact, a Tony Bennett renaissance, pure and simple,” said Robert Thompson, the director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.

Other musical artists have experienced similar resurgences: Kate Bush’s 1985 “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God),” reached millions of new fans last year after it was featured on “Stranger Things” and topped the charts; Abba released a new album in 2021, its first in decades; in 2002, a remix of Elvis’ “A Little Less Conversation” became a worldwide hit, decades after he died.

But what makes Mr. Bennett’s career remarkable is that he won over new generations of young people as he released albums and toured the country well into his 60s and well beyond, said Ariana Wyatt, an associate professor in the School of Performing Arts at Virginia Tech. His popularity was boosted whenever he was paired with younger stars, such as Lady Gaga, with whom he last performed in 2021.

“Usually when you hit that age that he was in his 80s, you’re a bit done,” Ms Wyatt said. “It’s not standard, this kind of resurgence and recovery of mainstream popularity.”

The comeback story begins after Mr. Bennett almost died in 1979 when he was high in an overflowing bathtub. Soon after, he turned to his older son, Danny Bennett, to manage his career.

Danny Bennett did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday night, but in a 1999 interview with The New York Times, he recounted the moment his father asked for his help.

The IRS sought to collect $2 million in back taxes from Mr. Bennett, causing the singer to turn to drugs for escape. When the IRS called his accountants to warn that his house would be seized, Mr. Bennett took drugs and had to be rushed to the hospital, Danny Bennett said at the time.

“That was the day of reckoning,” Danny Bennett said. “That’s when he called me. I think that was a desperate move.”

Danny Bennett was then a 25-year-old punk rocker with long, dyed blue hair and no college degree. But he said he believes that if his father could be marketed as a living American legend, a true master of his craft, his career could be revived.

Many speculated as to why exactly young people fell in love with Mr. Bennett’s songs again.

It may have been their universal appeal — simple lyrics and melody, a comforting but sometimes shrill voice — that helped Mr. Bennett transcend generations, Mr. Thompson said.

“Tony Bennett’s style, by not being aggressively timely, therefore becomes timeless,” Mr. Thompson said.

Danny Bennett’s direction also helped; his father stayed in his musical path, singing the same classic songs that made him famous in the 1950s.

Mr. Bennett soon appeared regularly on late-night television shows, beginning with David Letterman. Younger audiences loved the New Yorker singing melancholy, jazzy tunes with a smile.

“My next guest is truly one of the great singers of all time,” Mr. Letterman said in 1986, featuring Mr. Bennett, who wore a dark suit and tie and swayed as he bellowed “Everybody Has the Blues.”

In 1993, Conan O’Brien noted Mr. Bennett’s rise in popularity before asking, “What’s going on?”

“All the young adults in America, they think I’m cool,” a confused Mr. Bennett said before being showered with applause.

Indeed, young Americans did love Mr. Bennett, and a big reason for that was MTV, which at the time was still wooing them with music videos that defined pop culture.

In 1994, Mr. Bennett performed on “MTV Unplugged”, with guest appearances by singer-songwriters CD Lang and Elvis Costello. The album version would go on to win the Grammy for album of the year, leaving a shocked Mr. Bennett. say on stage accepting the award, “I really don’t believe it.”

MTV would play their songs alongside those of alternative rock stalwarts like Weezer and Green Day.

“When you look at the ’90s, the real kind of important place for musical invention was this MTV audience,” Ms. Wyatt said.

Movies and television shows also helped cement Mr. Bennett’s place in pop culture. “Goodfellas,” the Martin Scorsese mob movie released in 1990, opens with an iconic sequence: Mr. Bennett bellowing the opening lines of “Rags to Riches,” as Ray Liotta’s character begins to recount his life in the mob. Mr. Bennett also began playing himself in movies and TV shows such as “The Simpsons” and “Analyze This,” the 1999 mob comedy starring Robert De Niro.

In his 2012 memoir, “Life is a Gift: The Zen of Bennett,” the singer wrote that in the 1960s, he was told he had to change his music for new generations to accept him.

“Yet over the years, every age responds to my singing,” Mr. Bennett said, “even though I haven’t changed a thing.”

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