Paul Anka on turning 80, old friends in the music industry and his new album
Paul Anka doesn’t mind getting older
“Since I left home as a kid I’ve had my nose to the grindstone, and don’t want to lose that energy and dedication. I don’t have a rear-view mirror. I keep forging ahead. If you stand still they’ll bury you. I don’t think about being 80, that’s just a number. I don’t mind getting older, I just don’t want to get old.
“I refuse to retire. I’m scared to death of it. People who retire get old overnight, their bodies fail and they die. I won’t retire unless I have to. It’s nothing to do with money. Money buys you some freedom, but it kills everything. I need to write music every day because it’s my passion.”
Anka’s new album, Making Memories, featuring duets with friends including Olivia Newton-John, Andrea Bocelli and Michael Bublé, is released on August 13.
“I’m already working on my next album,” he says. “I’m really excited about it.”
He still has the bright-eyed, smooth-skinned, fresh-faced enthusiasm of the 16-year-old who had his first hit with the romantic song Diana in 1957 ‑ a tune so loved by Princess Diana’s mother Frances that she named her daughter after it.
Paul wrote Diana when he was only 14
Amazingly, Anka has hit the charts in every decade since ‑ an unprecedented feat ‑ with pop classics including Lonely Boy, Put Your Head On My Shoulder, and Puppy Love. He has written more than 500 songs, recorded 126 albums, had 33 hits in the Top 40, and sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the most successful singers ever.
His songs have been recorded by stars from Elvis Presley to Michael Jackson, from Buddy Holly to Drake. Anka wrote Frank Sinatra’s signature song My Way, and Tom Jones’s biggest hit, She’s A Lady.
He’s maintained an exhausting pace through seven decades, and shows no sign of slowing down, launching a four-month US tour in October. “I exercise, and listen to my body,” he says, speaking from his California mansion just north of Los Angeles.
“I’ve never smoked, never had hard alcohol. And no, I’ve never had a face-lift. I drink a little bowl of olive oil every day, and eat blueberries daily to stay healthy.”
Paul sings a 1970 duet with Tom Jones, who had huge success with his song She’s A Lady
He’s come a long way from the 14-year-old fan who sneaked into guitar legend Chuck Berry’s dressing room and played him an early demo recording of Diana.
“Worst goddamn song I’ve ever heard,” said Berry. “Go back to school.”
Anka laughs: “That motivated me to leave home in Canada and move to New York, where I got lucky and signed a record deal. Chuck Berry and I joked about it later because once Diana was a hit we toured together.”
Bobbysoxers screamed as Anka became a teen idol alongside his friends Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran and the Everly Brothers. But that all ended when the British invasion changed the face of pop music in the early 1960s.
“I loved the Beatles,” he says. “I met them in Paris and saw them perform in London. Many of my friends didn’t survive the change but I had already become a successful songwriter and wasn’t hurt by the British invasion.
“When my friends were looking for songs written by people twice their age, I was writing my own songs.”
Then Anka reinvented himself as a lounge singer.
“I’d become the youngest singer ever to play Las Vegas, and hung out with the Rat Pack, in this world run by the Mafia. I loved Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior. They were so good to me and taught me how to perform. They made me feel part of the Rat Pack, called me ‘Kid’ ‑ they had it embroidered on my bathrobe for the steam room ‑ and I still got the girls. I really got an education in living.
“But they were big drinkers and smokers, and I watched them slowly destroying their bodies.”
Paul wrote the song My Way that became Frank Sinatra’s theme tune
Canadian-born to Lebanese parents, Anka’s songwriting career soared when he bought the rights to a little-known French song, and wrote new lyrics to it for his Rat Pack pal Sinatra.
“Frank had told me: ‘I’m doing one more album, then I’m retiring.’ I understood why: the FBI were bugging his rooms, the Rat Pack was ending, and he was tired.
“He’d asked me to write him a song, but I was scared to death because he’d throw me out of the room if I gave him something like Puppy Love. I sat down at midnight, and mentally put myself in his shoes. In five hours I’d written My Way ‑ it just flowed. I sent him the demo, and a few months later he phoned me from a Los Angeles recording studio, and down the phone I heard My Way for the first time. I started crying.
“On my new album I sing it with Bublé and Bocelli, and it still gives me the chills.”
As Sinatra might have said, regrets, Anka’s had a few: three broken marriages, and five daughters by his first wife to whom he was often an absent parent.
“I did my best, but I was travelling 200 days a year,” he says. “My first wife, Anne de Zogheb, was a top model and the love of my life, and we had 40 good years together.”
When the marriage collapsed in divorce, he admits: “It was all me.” His second marriage trainer Anna Abergmarriage, to his personal trainer Anna Aberg, was an accident, he says. It was just a casual encounter ‑ “and I was informed a few months later I was having a child.
“I rose to the occasion and married her, but we divorced after 18 months. In the custody battle that followed I won full custody of our son, Ethan, who’s now almost 16.”
Anka divorced Wife No 3, Lisa Pemberton, in 2020 after four rocky years, claiming he was miserable.
“One day I pulled out my birth certificate and said, ‘See this? How much longer do I have? I can’t live like this any more!'”
He’s now in a loving relationship, he says, but will he marry again?
“No! No, no, no, no, no. You can add two more if you want,” he laughs, adding: “Subject to change.”
Making Memories is out on August 13
Yet he’s no museum piece: Anka is working on a documentary about his career, and developing a Broadway musical about his life.
He appeared on America’s version of TV show The Masked Singer last year, and Put Your Head On My Shoulder became a recent TikTok viral sensation, bringing him a new generation of music lovers.
“Suddenly I’m 80 years old and I’ve got 16-year-olds screaming, stopping me in the street, clamouring for my autograph,” he says.
“When I started out at 16 I could never have imagined I’d still be performing at 80. I started at the bottom of this mountain with nothing, crawling along the road to success, praying every second just to stay where I was.
“It’s said that if you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
“I keep going because I love what I do, and I’ll keep on as long as people will have me.”
Making Memories is out on August 13.
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