Engelbert Humperdinck on 50th anniversary tour, wife's Alzheimer's, refusing plastic surgery
Crooner Engelbert Humperdinck celebrates the 50th anniversary of his first hit record in 2017. In the past five decades, he’s traveled the world, performing love songs for millions of people. But, he admits, sometimes on stage his emotions get the better of him.
“There are many songs in my life that have had an emotional impact on my heart,” says the 81-year-old vocalist, calling from his home in Los Angeles. “Sometimes they hit me when I’m singing on stage. You know, no one really knows a person’s personal problems. If something is going on in your life, you have to overcome that on stage. But sometimes you can’t. Sometimes a lyric hits home and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
He's not exaggerating. In recent years, audiences noticed he occasionally would choke up on stage. At first, he said nothing about it. Then he announced this year that Patricia, his wife of 53 years, has been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the past decade.
“It does strike home for me several times during my show,” he says. “People didn’t know before, but I guess they do now. Now they may get an inkling of what is going on with my heart.”
Humperdinck and his wife used to split their time between Los Angeles and a home in Leicester, England, where he grew up. These days, however, the couple sticks to California, and he gets back to England about two or three times a year.
“She’s doing OK,” he says. “She still knows me, thank God. She recognizes me and she smiles and she says hello sometimes. Her speech is not very good at this moment, but with treatment and hopefully the discovery of a cure in the near future, I hope and pray that all is well.”
Humperdinck usually keeps his private life out of the spotlight, but chose to go public for one reason.
"It's a terrible disease," he says. "It's very rife at this point, and we have to do something about it. I thought it was important to let people know."
The news adds a bittersweet tinge to a celebratory time in the British singer’s life. He’s on a world tour to mark the 50 years since his success with "Release Me (And Let Me Love Again)." Issued in early 1967, the ballad became an international smash hit. In England, it kept the Beatles' “Penny Lane” out of the No. 1 spot; in the States, it went to No. 4.
It was pretty impressive, particularly for an old-fashioned country tune in the hazy days of the late '60s.
“I can’t believe how fast the time has gone by,” says Humperdinck, who was born with the much less cumbersome moniker of Arnold Dorsey. “Without that song, I wouldn’t be talking to you now. It’s the one that put me on the map. It stopped the almighty Beatles from getting to No. 1. For this unknown to do that? That was something.”
It wasn’t merely a hit record. It launched an amazingly durable international career for Humperdinck. He became a Las Vegas institution. Back when adult contemporary radio was still called easy listening, he scored hits through the ‘70s with songs like “After the Lovin’,” “Another Time, Another Place,” "A Man Without Love" and “The Last Waltz,” all marked by his distinctive vocal style.
That voice — deep, masculine and effortlessly warm — sounds remarkably unchanged.
“It’s as strong today as it was yesterday,” Humperdinck confirms. “I don’t do any scales or anything like trained singers or opera singers do. I don’t even know how to do scales! What I do know is how to sing in a contemporary fashion.”
He also knows how to entertain. Humperdinck is the type of performer who doesn’t have to rely on hit records or trends or TV appearances to keep audiences turning out. Even today, he does about 80 concerts a year all around the globe. He's an old-school entertainer: He picks terrific songs and presents them with great flair. Additionally, he boasts a playful sense of humor, which means the sentiment at his shows never runs too thick.
“I had an apprenticeship of working in some council clubs in England, and that put me in good stead for my future in show business," he says. "It was very good training. You’d see other acts and how they’d handle an audience. You tend to steal a little bit from some people, and then eventually it becomes your own.”
Another part of the Humperdinck mystique? Good, old-fashioned sex appeal. With his thick dark hair, long sideburns and pouty lips, he was known for making heartsflutter. Even that hasn't changed too much.
"I'm very lucky in a lot of respects," Humperdinck says. "I haven't used the Beverly Hills knives to shape my face. I haven't changed my appearance. I've stayed as normal as I can. My skin is good to this day, thanks to good genes left to me by my wonderful parents."
Not even a little tuck here or there?
"No, no, no," he says. "I never want to do that. As you grow older, you get a little looseness in your neck. I'm not bothered by that. That's part of aging, part of life. And I'm very lucky with hair, it's all my own."
Retirement not in the plans
With everything in good working order, he's trying to enjoy the anniversary. Decca has released a terrific 11-disc set, “The Complete Decca Studio Albums,” which captures all his long-players from 1967 to 1973. A two-disc set that features some new recordings, “50,” reached No. 5 on the British charts. And there’s a new album due in October, so it seems he won't be slowing down any time soon.
"As long as people want me out there and I'm able to stand out on that stage, the platform, I'm happy to be continuing with this wonderful career that has been given to me," he says. "It's a blessing."