For Paul Anka, 1974 is going to end a little early this year. It seems that the singer-composer has a long-term pact with himself that in any year as soon as he grosses $1 million, he knocks off any work he can. With his smash cabaret act and his songs for other artists like Frank Sinatra’s My Way, Donny and Marie Osmond’s Put Your Head On My Shoulder and the Tonight Show theme, a mother lode which adds to Paul’s royalties nightly, it is not bragadoccio for Anka to say, “If I can do it in three or four months, fine. Sometimes, it might take five or six…”
This year, his 33rd, Anka is inadvertently going to overshoot his one million by miles—he has written a song that just hit No. 1, You’re Having My Baby, and this time, it is Anka’s personal rendition that is the chart-busting gold record. Paul’s last No. 1 hit—his way—was Lonely Boy in 1959.
“I really didn’t know if it was ever going to happen again,” he now concedes. “It was kind of my last shot.” In the early 1960s, the revolution of the Beatles and Dylan made obsolete the South Philadelphia Sound, which he was associated with, though he was born in Ottawa, and later turned neo-Sinatra. “People laughed at me,” Paul recalls, but unlike the rest of his contemporaries (except for Elvis), Anka maintained his tax bracket and at least some of his claque. “It’s ironic,” he reflects. “When I had million-sellers they didn’t want me in clubs; when I was a has-been, they welcomed me with open arms.”
Part of the explanation is that Anka has developed one of the two or three most polished and dramatic acts in show business.
Paul personally attributes his longevity to the fact that he was “the only white kid prior to 1963 who wrote, published and produced his own records.” He actually started at 15, writing an autobiographical lament about unrequited love for an older girl, Diana, which he recorded the following year. It has sold 8.5 million copies worldwide—more than any other single except Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. The 11 gold records (either composed or sung) that followed included the late Buddy Holly’s last million-seller in 1959, It Doesn’t Matter Anymore. Anka was scheduled to travel in the plane in which Holly was killed when it crashed in Iowa in 1959, but his chaperone insisted he take a bus.
Today, for the few months a year he works, Paul leases a jet for himself and his 20 musicians and technicians. “But long ago,” he insists, “I rebelled against the theatrical life-style.” In 1972, after having lived “all my creative life” in New York hotels and apartments (his bed before Diana clicked was a bathtub), he fled to Las Vegas and “the first house I’ve ever owned.” It is on the grounds of the Tropicana Country Club. He is now building even finer digs on an 8-acre spread in a valley 20 minutes from the Strip. It particularly suits his wife of 11 years, Anne de Zogheb, an Egyptian-born model who was a Vogue cover girl, and their four daughters aged 2 to 7. They were, in Paul’s words, “all hand-delivered by their father,” who took a course in natural childbirth. (The theme of procreation dominates his current and uncharacteristically tacky hit, as in the verse, “I can feel me growing inside you.”) The kids swim and ride horses practically every day, and Paul, once he has retired for the year, takes the family to Europe and to a hunting lodge in Idaho. It is his favorite place, because “there are no phones.”
Things are clearly going his way these days—except for worry over his hair. He wears a hat or cap most of the time to disguise his baldness (and because he recently developed a scalp infection from a botched transplant). Paul’s one impossible dream and throwback to his Canadian upbringing involves hockey. He had a Montreal Canadiens uniform custom cut to his 5½’ frame and he occasionally warms up with the squad before games. Anka’s ambition is to buy an established hockey team. Of course, that ambition might require him to work a few extra weeks beyond his million a year.