Today, on Friday, July 21, 2023, the world lost Tony Bennett.
This is a heartbreaking loss for the arts (and for me as a fan), but also an intense reminder of all the color he brought into the world via his singing and his painting.
He was and will forever be an example of the healing power of art, and of the importance of artistic discipline: He painted and sang every single day, and loved it all until his very last day. He was a true artist and a classy embodiment of all that show business can be.
Within the many lessons we can find in the life and work of Tony Bennett, there is one that stands out to me, so much so that I purchased a printout of the phrase that captures the lesson and taped it on my bedroom wall.
This is the phrase: “Don’t sin against your talent.”
Bennett often told the story of how Woody Allen’s manager, the great Jack Rollins, had helped Bennett get sober (Bennett had struggled with addiction for years and once almost died of a cocaine overdose).
Bennett had asked Rollins what he thought about the legendary comedian Lenny Bruce. Rollins only said: “He sinned against his talent.”
That phrase changed and saved Bennett’s life, and pushed him to get sober, and he later said how he wished he could have shared the lesson with other artists, like Amy Winehouse, whose lives ended too soon.
So: You have talent, in the general sense that you have the potential to do some good, in some way (it doesn’t have to be artistic).
This is true by virtue of your being a human being. No exceptions.
Given that truth: Please, don’t sin against your talent. Instead, honor it. Who knows how much you can contribute to the world? Don’t you want to find out?
Tony Bennett sinned against his talent, and he almost lost it along with the rest of his life. More importantly, however: He chose to stop sinning against his talent. He chose to honor it each day. And the world is better and more colorful because of it.
Don’t sin against your talent.
Thank you very much, Mr. Bennett.