Neil Diamond is one of the most popular and successful musicians of all time. Here are some surprisingly awesome facts about the man, who recently announced that he was retiring from touring after 50 years in the music business.
Diamond attended New York University on a fencing scholarship. He was part of the squad that won the men’s college national championship in 1960.
Later that year, he dropped out of school to pursue a career as a songwriter. He didn’t earn a comfortable living until 1965, after he’d been hired to write at the legendary Brill Building in New York City. Among his first successes writing for other people: Jay and the Americans’ 1965 hit “Sunday and Me,” and then “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You” and “I’m a Believer” for the Monkees. The latter went gold within two days and spent seven weeks at number 1.
Like Elvis Presley and the Beatles, Diamond was positioned as a musical performer so popular that he could star in movies. Unlike the King and the Fab Four, however, Diamond made just one movie, and it was a disaster. In 1980’s The Jazz Singer, and updated remake of the 1927 Al Jolson movie, Diamond played a synagogue cantor who longed to be a rock star. Diamond, 39 at the time of filming but playing a man in his 20s and acting for the first time, “won” the Razzie Award for Worst Actor.
Diamond soured on acting, but he almost appeared in another movie. Plans fell through for him and Barbra Streisand to star in a film adaptation of their 1978 hit duet, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”
E.T. mania gripped the world in 1982, and Neil Diamond was helpless to resist. After he saw the movie with fellow songwriters Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach, they were so moved that they wrote a song about the titular friendly alien, particularly his glowing heart of love. E.T. rights holders Universal Studios sued Diamond and his-cowriters, and they had to pay $25,000 for unauthorized use of material from the film. The song’s success more than paid for the settlement—it was a top 5 hit in 1983.
Diamond hadn’t had a major hit on the pop chart since 1983 (“I’m Alive”) but he’s still a major force on soft rock radio. His classic songs like “Love on the Rocks” and “Forever in Blue Jeans” still get played on the kinds of stations you hear in offices and at the dentist. Last December his song “The Christmas Medley” hit the top 10 of Billboard’s “Adult Contemporary” chart—Diamond’s 38th song to do so. That’s just one short of the record: 39, held by Elton John.