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Neil Diamond says he has Parkinson's disease, will retire from touring

File photo of Neil Diamond backstage in the XL Center, in Hartford, Conn., August 7, 2008. (Christopher Capozziello/Copyright 2018 The New York Times)

Neil Diamond, one of America's most enduring songwriters best known for his singalong hits "Sweet Caroline" and "Cracklin' Rosie," announced Monday, Jan. 22, that he has Parkinson's disease.

Diamond, who will turn 77 on Wednesday, Jan. 24, said he is retiring from concert touring as a result of the diagnosis.

"It is with great reluctance and disappointment that I announce my retirement from concert touring. I have been so honored to bring my shows to the public for the past 50 years," Diamond said in a statement on his website. "My sincerest apologies to everyone who purchased tickets and were planning to come to the upcoming shows."

Parkinson's disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that can cause tremors in the hands and arms, rigid muscles and speech changes such as slurring, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Diamond made the announcement while in the midst of his "50 Year Anniversary World Tour." In March, Diamond was set to visit New Zealand and Australia on the third leg of the tour. The tickets will be refunded in full, according to the singer's website.

Diamond - who has been nominated for 13 Grammy awards and won one - will be given the coveted Lifetime Achievement Awards at Sunday's Grammy Awards.

He is one of the world's most popular recording artists, having sold more than 130 million records. At least 53 of his songs have landed on the Billboard Top 100 chart and 55 albums on the Billboard 200 chart. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

Music was intertwined with Diamond's life from a young age. He joined the 100-person chorus at Erasmus Hall High School in his hometown of Brooklyn because "I thought this was a great place to meet girls," he said while playing a concert in the school's chapel in 2014, according to Billboard.

Maybe he met girls there, but he didn't meet his Erasmus classmate Barbra Streisand until 20 years later, even though she was a fellow chorus member, according to IMDb. Eventually, the two recorded "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" together in 1978.

Diamond grew interested in songwriting at age 16 when folk singer Pete Seeger played a show at a summer camp Diamond attended in upstate New York. The lightbulb moment came when some of the other campers performed a song they had written for Seeger.

"I kinda sat in the back and watched, and I became aware of the possibility of actually writing a song," he told Rolling Stone in 1976. "And the next thing, I got a guitar when we got back to Brooklyn, started to take lessons and almost immediately began to write songs."

After a few false starts, he wrote "Blue Destiny" when he was 17 years old, and he knew he had found his calling.

It was "the song that got me hooked," he wrote in the liner notes for the box set "In My Lifetime," according to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. "When I played it back ... it made an immediate emotional connection. 'Blue Destiny' actually touched my 17-year-old heart and got me started on a lifetime journey of expressing myself through songs."

He attended New York University, where he was a pre-med major, on a fencing scholarship. But he found school dull, and he spent those years skipping class to visit Tin Pan Alley. With only a few weeks left until graduation, he dropped out to make $50 a week penning songs for Sunbeam Music, according to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

As a musician, Diamond is a workhorse. He released his first record, "The Feel of Neil Diamond," in 1966. During each of the next eight years, he released at least one album, sometimes two. That output held fairly steady through the 1990s, only slowing in the 2000s. To Diamond, music is one of the meanings of life.

"I'm motivated to find myself. I'm an imperfect emotional being, trying to figure out some way to give some kind of substance and meaning to my life," he told Rolling Stone in 1976. "I do it in a very silly way. I write these little songs and go and sing them in a recording studio and, later, in front of a lot of people. It seems like an odd way to gain an inner sense of acceptance of the self. But it's what I do. It seems like a lot of people are getting good things from it. It's really the only justification I've found yet for my life."

Even with Parkinson's disease, Diamond said he will continue writing and recording music.

"My thanks goes out to my loyal and devoted audiences around the world. You will always have my appreciation for your support and encouragement," Diamond said in the statement. "This ride has been so good, so good, so good thanks to you."

 

Story by Travis M. Andrews. Andrews is a reporter for The Washington Post's Morning Mix. Previously he was an editor for Southern Living and a pop culture and tech contributor for Mashable.

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