Who doesn’t know all the words (or at least the chorus) to “Sweet Caroline?”Sure, you’re familiar with that hit, but how much do you know about the man behind it?
Neil Diamond announced his retirement back in January 2018 from touring following a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Over the course of his multi-decade career, he released 32 studio albums and sold more than 125 million records. Here are five facts about the legendary singer-songwriter. (And here’s a bonus fact: “Sweet Caroline” is about Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President John F. Kennedy. She was only 11 when the song was written.)
- Neil Leslie Diamond was born Jan. 24, 1941, in Brooklyn, New York. He received his first guitar in high school for his 16th birthday, but didn’t originally plan to pursue music as a career. Instead, he was a pre-med major and on a fencing scholarship at New York University. But he grew bored with his studies and switched his focus to songwriting. He dropped out of NYU his senior year to take a 16-week job with a music publisher.
- He signed a deal with Bang Records in 1966 and released his first hit single, “Solitary Man,” followed by “Cherry Cherry” and “Kentucky Woman.” Diamond moved to Uni Records two years later and produced a string of popular songs, including “Sweet Caroline” (1969), “Song Sung Blue” (1972), and his very first number one, “Cracklin’ Rosie” (1970).
- During a four-year break that began in 1972, he composed the score for the film “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” (1973) and won the 1974 Grammy Award for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special for his effort. The soundtrack ended up making more money than the movie itself.
- He was supposed to star in a film version of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” with Barbra Streisand (turned into a duet song instead), but starred in a 1980 remake of “The Jazz Singer” with Laurence Olivier and Lucie Arnaz. And many famous artists have covered his songs. Notable examples include Johnny Cash (“Solitary Man”), the Monkees (“I’m a Believer”), Elvis Presley (“And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind”), and UB40 (“Red Red Wine”).
- Despite all that success, it took 42 years for one of Neil Diamond’s albums to hit number one. The 2008 album “Home Before Dark” took that honor. But his hard work has not gone unrecognized by the Recording Academy, which will grant him its Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018. He also was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. And he received the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on February 12, 2018.