Neil Diamond stunned his fans on Monday by announcing that he was retiring as a live performer after getting diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. His 50th anniversary tour was nearly complete, but the final leg due to take place in Australia and New Zealand was called off. “I plan to remain active in writing, recording and other projects for a long time to come,” Diamond said in a statement. “This ride has been ‘so good, so good, so good’ thanks to you.”
A little over a year ago, Rolling Stone interviewed Diamond and discussed the upcoming tour. “For some reason, I’m driven to get out and do my work and performing is one of the things that I do,” he said over lunch. “It’s probably, at this point, as important as songwriting to me… It is a delirious high because you’re stepping a little bit into the unknown, even though you’ve done this before. You never know what’s gonna happen. It’s never the same. You’re carried along on the wings of adrenaline, endorphins.”
Without a new album to support, the setlist was a nightly journey through his vast catalog. The focus was on big hits like “Cherry Cherry” “America” and “Forever In Blue Jeans,” but he also dug out some lesser-known tunes like “Jazz Time,” “Lonely Looking Sky” and “Skybird.” He told us that he never got sick of the hits, even “Sweet Caroline,” which he has done live over 1,500 times. “I’m still forgetting the lyrics!” he said. “First of all, it changes pretty much every time. The form changes, the dynamics change. Sometimes you don’t even plan for it to change, but it just changes.”
The most shocking decision of the tour was to resurrect 1976’s “Dry Your Eyes,” a fan favorite he hadn’t touched since The Last Waltz. “It’s been relegated to the attic,” he said. “I think it’s due to come out after 40 years.” The song was written about the aftermath of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, but he recast it on the tour as a tribute to the victims of terrorism. Here’s video of him performing it in Cleveland on May 30th, 2017.
The tour wrapped on October 19th, 2017, but December 31st he performed “Sweet Caroline” for the freezing masses in Times Square on Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve. Parkinson’s is a disease that progresses very slowly and he seemed to be in amazing shape for a man of 77 on this tour. Hopefully his body will respond well to the medication and he’ll be around for years and years to come. And even though he didn’t plan the 50th anniversary tour as a farewell, it turned into the perfect way to wrap up his career as a live performer.