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A great singer with Alzheimer's

July 22, 2010 by Norman Lebrecht

3 comments.


I did not want to be the first to mention it, but it now appears to be public knowledge on music sites that Anthony Rolfe Johnson was suffering from Alzheimers in the last years of his career, and died of it this week.

The symptoms were first noticed in 1998, on a Spanish tour with Sir Neville Marriner. There were further lapses in Munich at the Staatsoper when he played Emaeus in Monteverdi’s Ulisse in 2001. ‘His confidence began to suffer enormously,’ writes a trusted colleague, ‘and over the following couple of years he slowly withdrew from singing altogether and had virtually retired by 2004.’

We should salute Anthony’s courage in carrying for so long with that disability, and the even greater heroism of the colleagues who supported him. He was a generous and popular man, and his fellow-artists did their best to keep him going.

Nevertheless, the loss is tragic. To lose a great singer with the voice intact in his early 60s is cruel and horrible. In the memory of Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Let’s do our best to help the scientists who are working on better diagnostic tools and an early cure for Alzheimer’s. Let’s do it now.  


Comments (3)

  1. Early-onset Alzheimers (and, at 57, Tony would have ‘qualified’ for that) is, if it can be imagined, even more tragic than that which strikes people later in life. The earlier one develops the disease, the faster and more virulently it progresses. So much more needs to be done to understand and fight this terrible illness.

  2. Susan Thames says:

    I thoroughly appreciate this blog entry which makes tangible the cost of Alzheimer’s. The courage you describe–we can’t go on, we must go on. Thank you.

  3. Dave Horne says:

    I’m a jazz pianist and listen almost exclusively to classical music. Today while preparing my breakfast I listened to (Spotify subscription) the Messiah. I heard this fantastic tenor, Googled him, and then sadly learned his story and that he died six years ago.

    I wish I would have known of him earlier.

    If anyone could put me in touch with his family, that would be greatly appreciated.

    He had a wonderful voice … and it captured my attention.

    How very sad that he passed away so young.

    Dave Horne – The Netherlands


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