Paul Albert Anka OC (born July 30, 1941) is a Canadian-American singer, songwriter, and actor. He became famous with hit songs including “Diana”, “Lonely Boy”, “Put Your Head on My Shoulder”, and “(You’re) Having My Baby”. He wrote the theme for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, one of Tom Jones’ biggest hits “She’s a Lady”, and the English lyrics to Claude François and Jacques Revaux’s music for Frank Sinatra’s signature song “My Way”, which has been recorded by many, including Elvis Presley. Three songs he co-wrote with Michael Jackson, “This Is It” (originally titled “I Never Heard”) “Love Never Felt So Good”, and “Don’t Matter to Me”, became posthumous hits for Jackson.
Anka was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada to Camelia (née Tannis) and Andrew Emile “Andy” Anka Sr., who owned a restaurant called the Locanda. His parents were both of Lebanese Christian descent. His father came to America from Bab Tuma in Damascus, Syria, and his mother was an immigrant from Lebanon. His mother died when he was 18.
Anka sang with the St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral choir under the direction of Frederick Karam, with whom he studied music theory. He studied piano with Winnifred Rees. He attended Fisher Park High School, where he was part of a vocal trio called the Bobby Soxers.
Paul Anka recorded his first single, “I Confess”, when he was 14. In 1956, with $100 given to him by his uncle, he went to New York City where he auditioned for Don Costa at ABC Records, singing what was widely believed to be a lovestruck verse he had written to a former babysitter. In an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross in 2005, he stated that it was to a girl at his church whom he hardly knew. The song “Diana” brought Anka stardom as it went to No. 1 on the Canadian and US music charts. “Diana” is one of the best selling singles ever by a Canadian recording artist. He followed up with four songs that made it into the Top 20 in 1958, including “It’s Time to Cry”, which hit No. 4 and “(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings”, which reached No. 15, making him (at 17) one of the biggest teen idols of the time. He toured Britain, then Australia with Buddy Holly. Anka also wrote “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” – a song written for Holly, which Holly recorded just before he died in 1959. Anka stated shortly afterward:
“It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” has a tragic irony about it now, but at least it will help look after Buddy Holly’s family. I’m giving my composer’s royalty to his widow – it’s the least I can do.
Paul Anka’s talent included the theme for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (reworked in 1962 from a song Anka wrote earlier called “Toot Sweet”; it had been rewritten with lyrics and recorded by Annette Funicello in 1959 as “It’s Really Love”). He wrote “Teddy” – a Top 20 hit for Connie Francis in 1960. Anka wrote the English lyrics to “My Way”, Frank Sinatra’s signature song (originally the French song “Comme d’habitude”). In the 1960s, Anka began acting in motion pictures as well as writing songs for them, most notably the theme for the hit film The Longest Day (which also was the official march of the Canadian Airborne Regiment), in which he made a cameo appearance as a US Army Ranger. For his film work he wrote and recorded one of his greatest hits “Lonely Boy”. He also wrote and recorded “My Home Town”, which was a No. 8 pop hit for him the same year. He then went on to become one of the first pop singers to perform at the Las Vegas casinos. In 1960, he appeared twice as himself in NBC’s short-lived crime drama Dan Raven.
In 1963, Anka purchased the rights and ownership of his ABC-Paramount catalog and re-recorded his earlier hits for RCA Victor, which he had joined in 1960. Like many American recording artists of the mid 1960s, Anka’s career was derailed by the British Invasion. By the end of the decade, he focused mainly on adult contemporary and big-band standards and began appearing regularly in Las Vegas.
In the early 1970s, Anka signed with Buddah Records, releasing two albums, the self-titled Paul Anka and Jubilation. The former, first released in 1971, included the track “She’s a Lady”, a song Anka composed that would become the biggest hit for Welsh singer Tom Jones that same year. Anka’s version failed to become a chart success.
1970s chart comeback
Frustrated after more than ten years without a top 25 hit record, Anka switched labels again, which marked a turning point in his career. This time he signed with United Artists and in 1974 teamed up with Odia Coates to record the No. 1 hit, “(You’re) Having My Baby”, exposing Anka to a new generation of fans and proved his staying power among his original fan base that was now maturing.
Anka also wrote five songs which were included on an album by Don Goodwin.
Anka and Coates would record three more duets that made it into the Top 10, “One Man Woman/One Woman Man” (No. 7), “I Don’t Like to Sleep Alone” (No. 8), and the No. 15 duet “(I Believe) There’s Nothing Stronger Than Our Love”. In 1975, he recorded a jingle for Kodak written by Bill Lane (lyrics) and Roger Nichols (melody) called “Times of Your Life”. It became so popular Anka recorded it as a full song, which peaked at No. 7 in the US pop chart in 1976. The follow-up was another hit that Anka wrote for Sinatra, “Anytime (I’ll Be There)”, peaking at No. 33. Anka’s last Top 40 hit in the US was in the summer of 1983: “Hold Me ‘Til the Mornin’ Comes”, which included backing vocals from then-Chicago frontman Peter Cetera; it hit No. 2 on the Hot Adult Contemporary chart.
Anka’s 1998 album A Body of Work was his first new US studio release since Walk a Fine Line in 1983; vocalists and performers included Celine Dion, Kenny G, Patti LaBelle, and Skyler Jett. The album included a new version of “Hold Me ‘Til the Morning Comes”, once again performed with Peter Cetera. In 2005, Anka released an album of big-band arrangements of contemporary Rock songs titled, Rock Swings; the album provided a mainstream comeback of sorts that saw Anka awarded a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto.
On October 12, 2009, Anka stated that Michael Jackson’s new release titled “This Is It” was a collaborative effort between the two in 1983. According to Anka, after recording the song, Jackson decided not to use it and the tune was then recorded and released by Sa-Fire. After Anka threatened to sue for credit and a share of royalties, the administrators of Jackson’s estate granted Anka 50% of the copyright. An additional song that Jackson co-wrote with Anka from this 1983 session, “Love Never Felt So Good”, was discovered shortly thereafter. His album Songs of December charted at No. 58 in Canada in November 2011.
Paul Anka was among hundreds of artists whose material was destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.
Anka engaged in intense collaboration with Italian musicians, including composer/director Ennio Morricone, singer-songwriter Lucio Battisti, and lyricist Mogol. His official discography reports nine singles released by RCA Italiana, but the Italian charts list at least six other songs he interpreted or recorded in Italian. His top hit was “Ogni giorno” which scored No. 1 in 1962, followed by “Piangerò per te” and “Ogni volta”, which reached both No. 2, in 1963 and 1964. “Ogni volta” (“Every Time”) was sung by Anka during the Festival di Sanremo of 1964 and then sold more than one million copies in Italy alone; it was also awarded a gold disc.
He returned to Sanremo in 1968 with “La farfalla impazzita” by Battisti-Mogol. On that occasion, the same title was interpreted by Italian crooner Johnny Dorelli. The pair of singers, however, were eliminated before the final stage of the competition. Anka, maybe only coincidentally, left the Italian scene shortly thereafter. In 2003, Anka came back with an exclusive concert in Bologna, organized by the Italian company Mapei during the CERSAIE exhibition. He recorded a version of “My Way” with alternate lyrics dedicated to the sponsor of the evening.
In 2006, he recorded a duet with 1960s Italian hitmaker Adriano Celentano, a new cover of “Diana”, with Italian lyrics by Celentano-Mogol and with singer-songwriter Alex Britti on the guitar. The song hit No. 3.
Paul Anka has been very popular in Finland since the beginning of his career. He performed in Helsinki’s Linnanmäki in 1959, in Lappeenranta in 1989, at the Pori Jazz Festival in Pori on 19 July 2007 and in 2012, and in Tampere three times on 6 August 2008 and on 9 and 10 August 2009. He also appeared in the Las Vegas scene in the 1991 Finnish film Prince of the Hit Parade (Iskelmäprinssi), directed by Juha Tapaninen. At the end of the film there is an archive footage of Anka’s performance in Linnanmäki. As background music, Anka performs his song “How Long” in the film.
With less success than in Italy and Finland, Anka tried the French market as well, with his first song being “Comme Avant” with Mireille Mathieu. In 1964 he released an album titled Paul Anka à Paris; the six tracks on side B were sung in French. A single release in Japanese (“Kokoro no Sasae”/”Shiawase e no Tabiji”) is also reported on his discography. In 1993, he recorded a duet with Filipino singer Regine Velasquez titled “It’s Hard to Say Goodbye”, included on her album Reason Enough. This song was re-recorded several years later by Anka and Celine Dion and was included on his album A Body of Work.
Anka has performed four times in Israel, and in 2019 rejected pleas that he boycott the country.
Anka was married to Anne de Zogheb, the daughter of a Lebanese diplomat, Charles de Zogheb, from February 16, 1963 until 2001. The couple met in 1962 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she was a fashion model on assignment and under contract to the Eileen Ford Agency. Zogheb, brought up in Egypt, is of Lebanese, English, French, Dutch, and Greek descent. The couple married the following year in a ceremony at Paris-Orly Airport. She quit modeling after their second child was born. They have five daughters: Amelia, Anthea, Alicia, Amanda (married to actor Jason Bateman), and Alexandra.
On September 6, 1990, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
In 2008, Anka married his personal trainer, Anna Åberg, in Sardinia. They divorced in 2010, and Paul has full custody of their son. Anna was featured in the Swedish TV3 show Svenska Hollywoodfruar (Swedish Hollywood Wives).
Anka’s autobiography, My Way, co-written with David Dalton, was published in 2013.
In October 2016, Anka married Lisa Pemberton in Beverly Hills, California.
Anka’s first acting role in a major film was in a cameo as an army private in The Longest Day (1962). He also composed the title song to the movie. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, he starred in such teen exploitation films as Girls Town (1959) and Look in Any Window (1961), in which he played a peeping tom. He later played an Elvis-hating casino pit manager in 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) and a yacht broker in Captain Ron (1992). He guest-starred as a murder suspect in one of the Perry Mason Made-for-TV movies, The Case of the Maligned Mobster (1991). He made guest appearances as himself in the episode “Red’s Last Day” on That ’70s Show and in “The Real Paul Anka” episode of Gilmore Girls. He made several appearances on the NBC TV series Las Vegas. In 2016, he made another guest appearance as himself in the “Spring” episode of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, a revival of the original show.
Other film and television appearances
Anka was the subject of the 1962 National Film Board of Canada documentary Lonely Boy, considered a classic work of cinema verite. He wrote and performed songs in the 1985 Canadian children’s Christmas cartoon George and the Christmas Star. He appeared on The Simpsons season 7 episode Treehouse of Horror VI singing a song with Lisa in October 1995. In American Idol’s seasons 2 and 3, he made a special appearance and sang an adapted version of “My Way” that mocked the format of the show, as well as participants, judges, and the host. The performance was praised as one of the best moments of the show.
Anka was a contestant during season four of The Masked Singer, where he appeared as “Broccoli”. He ended up finishing in 7th place, being revealed in the Group C finals.
On Gilmore Girls, Lorelai Gilmore named her Polish Lowland Sheepdog after Anka. Series co-creator Daniel Palladino chose the name after hearing the Rock Swings album at a coffeehouse. In the cold open to the episode “The Real Paul Anka,” both Paul Ankas were featured in a dream sequence Lorelai describes to her daughter Rory.
Anka appeared as himself in the American sitcom That 70s Show in season 2, episode 2 “Red’s Last Day”.
Awards and honors
In 1972, a street in Ottawa was named Paul Anka Drive. In 1981, the Ottawa City Council named August 26 as “Paul Anka Day” to celebrate his quarter-century in show business.
Anka won the Juno Award for Composer of the Year (an award given for songwriting) in 1975. He has been nominated for Juno Awards many other times. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1980.
Anka was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in October 2004.
Anka was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2005.
In popular culture
In the mid-1980s, Anka was secretly recorded while launching a tirade against his crew and band members, berating them for behavior that he considered unprofessional. When asked about it on the interview program Fresh Air, he referred to the person who did the recording as a “snake we later fired”. The recording became widely known after being uploaded to the internet around 2004, and a number of quotes from it became famous, including “The guys get shirts!”; “Don’t make a maniac out of me!”; and “Slice like a fucking hammer”. Some of the quotes were reproduced verbatim by Al Pacino’s character in the 2007 film Ocean’s Thirteen.
In the later seasons of Gilmore Girls, Lorelai names her dog Paul Anka.
In the American Dad episode Familyland, Roger is amazed that Anka wrote the ‘Tripping Balls’ song (‘Trip trip trippedy, / Dem ol’ Trippin’ Balls!’) in a night.
In 1978, Anka opened Jubilation, a restaurant and club considered one of the first modern-era nightclubs in Las Vegas; County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani was its first female bartender.
In 2012, Anka co-founded the holographic tech startup, ARHT Media. He is currently a member of ARHT Media’s Board of Advisors, alongside Kevin O’Leary and Brian Mulroney.
|1958||Paul Anka||ABC Paramount||LP||—||—|
|1959||My Heart Sings||ABC Paramount||CD, LP||—||—|
|1960||Swings For Young Lovers||ABC Paramount||CD, LP||—||—|
|1961||It’s Christmas Everywhere||ABC Paramount||LP||—||—|
|1962||Young, Alive and In Love!||RCA Victor||LP||61||—|
|1962||Let’s Sit This One Out||RCA Victor||LP||137||—|
|1963||3 Great Guys (Paul Anka, Sam Cooke and Neil Sedaka)||RCA Victor||LP||—||—|
|1963||Our Man Around The World||RCA Victor||LP||—||—|
|1968||Goodnight My Love||RCA Victor||LP||101||—|
|1969||Life Goes On||RCA Victor||LP||194||—|
|1972||Paul Anka||Buddah||CD, LP||188||—|
|1974||Anka||United Artists||CD, LP||9||Gold|
|1975||Feelings||United Artists||CD, LP||36||—|
|1975||Times of Your Life (9 of 10 cuts from previous 2 albums)||United Artists||LP||22||Gold|
|1976||The Painter||United Artists||CD, LP||85||—|
|1977||The Music Man||United Artists||LP||195||—|
|1978||Listen to Your Heart||RCA Victor||CD, LP||179||—|
|1979||Headlines||RCA Victor||CD, LP||—||—|
|1981||Both Sides of Love||RCA Victor||LP||171||—|
|1983||Walk a Fine Line||Columbia||CD, LP||156||—|
|1987||Freedom For The World (titled Freedom in Canada)||A&M Records||CD, LP||—||—|
|1989||Somebody Loves You||Polydor||CD||—||—|
|1996||Amigos (Duets in Spanish)||Sony||CD||—||—|
|2005||Rock Swings||Verve||CD||120 (9 UK)||—|
|2007||Classic Songs, My Way||Decca||CD||139||—|
|2011||Songs of December||Decca||CD||—||—|
|1959||Verboten!||Self, behind opening credits||Sang “Verboten!”|
|1959||Girls Town||Jimmy Parlow||Wrote and Sung “Lonely Boy”|
|1960||The Private Lives of Adam & Eve||Pinkie Parker||Wrote and Sung “Adam and Eve”|
|1961||Look in Any Window||Craig Fowler|
|1961||The Seasons of Youth||Self||TV Documentary|
|1961||Make Room for Daddy||Paul Pryor||Season 8, episode 25: “Old Man Danny”|
|1962||The Longest Day||U.S. Army Ranger|
|1964||Valentine’s Day||Gerald Larson||TV Series|
|1965||The Red Skelton Hour||Bonnie Prince Gorgeous||Episode 25: “Nuts of the Round Table”|
|1974||Kojak||Buddy Maus||Season 2, episode 14: “The Betrayal”|
|1977||Lindsay Wagner: Another Side of Me||Self||TV Special|
|1977||Elvis in Concert||No role – Soundtrack #12: My Way written by Paul Anka||TV Special|
|1982||The Paul Anka Show||Host||TV Series|
|1983||The Fall Guy||Vic Madison||Season 3, episode 7: “Dirty Laundry”|
|1987||Crime Story||Anthony ‘Tony’ Dio||Season 1, episode 20: “Top of the World”|
|1991||Perry Mason: The Case of the Maligned Mobster||Nick Angel||TV Movie|
|1991||Prince of the Hit Parade||Himself|
|1992||Captain Ron||Yacht Broker Donaldson|
|1993||Ordinary Magic||Joey Dean|
|1994||Shake, Rattle and Rock!||Himself||TV Movie; Special appearance|
|1995||The Simpsons||Himself (voice)||Season 7, episode 6: “Treehouse of Horror VI|
|1996||Mad Dog Time||Danny Marks|
|1999||That ’70s Show||Himself||Season 2, episode 2: “Red’s Last Day”|
|2001||3000 Miles to Graceland||Pit Boss #1|
|2005||Las Vegas||Himself||Season 3, episode 2: “Fake the Money and Run”|
|2006||Gilmore Girls||Himself||Season 6, episode 18: “The Real Paul Anka”|
|2016||Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life||Himself||Miniseries, Episode 2: “Spring”|
|2020||The Masked Singer||Broccoli||Season 4; Eliminated in episode 9|
|2020||Jay Sebring….Cutting to the Truth||Himself||Documentary|