Born in Canada in 1941, teen singer Paul Anka's hit "Diana" sold millions of copies and set him up as a top teen idol with prolific songwriting abilities. He then appeared in several films, headlined a Vegas act, hosted TV variety shows and wrote hits for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones. He rose to the top of the charts again with the 1974 duet "You're Having My Baby."
Famed singer-songwriter Paul Anka was born on July 30, 1941, in Ottawa, Canada. Paul Anka was the eldest of three children born to his Lebanese-Canadian parents, Andy and Camelia Anka. Anka spent his childhood helping out in the kitchen and schmoozing with patrons of his father's restaurant, the Locanda, a popular hangout for Ottawa journalists, politicians and businessmen. From an early age, it was clear that Anka had an abundance of confidence and big dreams of life on stage. "I was pretty precocious, a pretty aggressive kid," Anka said. "I think my parents knew they had an unusual child."
Shortly after his 15th birthday, Anka bought himself a ticket to Los Angeles, staying with an uncle there while he tried to make his name as a singer. At the year's end, he convinced his father to let him go to New York City in search of his big break. His father agreed, on one condition: If Paul couldn't make it big in the Big Apple, he would have to come back home to Ottawa.
Anka hit the Manhattan pavement running. Soon after his arrival, he landed a meeting with Don Costa, an executive at ABC/Paramount Records, who agreed to listen to a few minutes of Anka's music. After hearing the teenager play some of his songs on the piano, Costa called in his colleagues. Within days, Paul Anka's father was in New York signing a contract on behalf of his son, who was still a minor and thus couldn't sign on his own.
Rise to Fame
The label decided to release "Diana," a song Anka wrote for a girl he had a crush on back in Ottawa, as the artist's first single. Within weeks, the 16-year-old had the No. 1 song in the world. "Diana" went on to sell more than 20 million copies. Paul Anka was officially a teen idol. By the late 1950s, well before his 20th birthday, he was traveling the world, singing songs like "Lonely Boy" and "Put Your Head On My Shoulder" for swooning crowds. "My life as a teenager ended at 16," Anka said. "I went into another sphere." Yet in spite of his worldwide fan base, Anka's hometown largely refused to embrace him. Local kids booed him at his show in Ottawa in 1956, and he refused to play there again for decades.
As the 1960s progressed, Anka's style of music largely fell out of favor. Teens began to favor the rock 'n' roll of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones over the dreamy love songs of crooners like Anka. The big record labels quietly shoved him aside. "When they started not to believe and they sensed that things were changing, I said, 'OK, give me back my life. Give me back my music,'" said Anka, a shrewd and savvy businessman by nature. For $250,000, he bought back the rights to all his music and began to transform his image from teen idol singer to Rat Pack-style songwriter.
Anka launched a wildly successful songwriting career from the casinos and supper clubs of Las Vegas and Florida. He wrote the theme song for The Tonight Show during Johnny Carson's reign, which is estimated to have been played some 1.4 million times. At the height of Carson's popularity, Anka earned $800,000 to $900,000 annually in royalties alone from that one song.
Other career highlight include writing "She's A Lady," Tom Jones's biggest hit, and befriending Frank Sinatra and writing "My Way," the singer's valedictory tune. In 1974, Anka released his own single, "(You're) Having My Baby," which outraged feminists but still went to No. 1 on the charts. "You've got to figure out what they want out there and give it to them," Anka once stated.
While traveling in Puerto Rico in 1962, Anka met Anne de Zogheb, a model of Parisian and Egyptian descent. The couple married in Paris in 1963, and Anne gave up her career to raise their family. The couple had five daughters: Amelia, Anthea, Alisia, Amanda and Alexandria. His marriage to Anne ended in 2001, after 37 years together. Anka then had a son with Anna Aberg, a Swedish model and actress 30 years his junior. The couple married in 2008 but separated shortly after.
Anka has released more than 120 albums, together selling more than 10 million copies globally, not counting singles. Alone or in collaboration with others, he has written some 900 songs, placing singles in the Top 50 during five different decades. When he was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008, former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien gave his introduction.
Despite all these successes, Anka still refuses to rest on his laurels. "I've always believed that if you don't stay moving," he said, "they will throw dirt on you."
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