Letter From a Legend

This past summer, I celebrated one of those monumental birthdays that seem to come quicker the farther I go along, and they all seem to end in zero or five. I turned 65 and was flooded with memories of when I was convinced that 65-year-old people were old and had the proverbial one foot in the grave. Since I held that myopic belief, nutrition and medical science have given us 65-year-olds the potential for a longer life. My perspective has changed. When I think of some of my most significant mentors, Coach John Wooden, Paul Harvey, and Art Linkletter, I’m reminded that they all did some of their best and most impactful work in their 90s.

My wonderful wife, Crystal, and some of my friends arranged a party to commemorate my 65th trip around the sun. They invited friends, family, and colleagues and then welcomed those who could not travel to attend the event to send letters to be read aloud. I was humbled to hear letters read with birthday wishes from Steve Forbes, Jack Nicklaus, and Louis Gossett, Jr., among many others. But we received one letter I will never forget.

Thirty years ago, I was struggling to start the Narrative Television Network, and I needed as many celebrity interviews as I could get to make our programming attractive to broadcast stations and cable TV affiliates throughout North America. I was grateful to get interviews with Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Michael Douglas, and many others. I remember being in New York with our production crew, and someone told me Tony Bennett was taping a network Christmas special at the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center.

We rushed over, and Mr. Bennett’s manager told me I might get an interview if we didn’t mind waiting. After several hours, we were about to lose hope when Mr. Bennett walked over, introduced himself as if everyone in the civilized world didn’t know who Tony Bennett was, and sat down with me for an interview. I thanked him and told him it was quite a birthday present to get to do this interview. He chuckled and asked, “Why is it a birthday present for me to get to do an interview with you?” I corrected him, explaining, “No, it’s my birthday.” He laughed and declared that it was his birthday, too. From that day forward, we exchanged birthday greetings on our shared special day.

We were hoping to get a birthday letter from Mr. Bennett before my party, but along with the rest of the world, we got the sad news that he had passed away. However, he had already sent me a birthday greeting that I received in the mail approximately a week later. I was proud, humbled, and emotional to share with those at my party and now with you the thoughts and words of the late, great Tony Bennett:

“Dear Jim,

It’s been wonderful and marvelous ever since, over three decades ago, you and I discovered we share a birthday. So, as I approach 97 and you celebrate 65, remember a long time ago I left my heart in San Francisco, but on August 3rd, it will be with you and your friends.

Keep Smiling,

Tony Bennett”

There’s much to learn from the life and legacy of Tony Bennett, but his final words say it all, “Keep smiling.”

As you go through your day today, celebrate the victories, learn from the defeats, and keep smiling at it all.

Today’s the day!

About the author: Jim Stovall is the president of the Emmy-award winning Narrative Television Network as well as a published author of more than 50 books—eight of which have been turned into movies. He is also a highly sought-after platform speaker.

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