Sometimes you fear people perceive you as a Johnny One-Note,” says Tony Orlando. But hey, if the note resonates, why not keep playing it? Now 51, Orlando closes most of his shows with his 1973 megahit “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” He performs twice a day near his Branson, Mo., home at the Tony Orlando Yellow Ribbon Music Theater, which has a stained-glass window that depicts, yes, a yellow ribbon. And if he is asked to wear a ribbon and pose by an oak tree, he’ll feel “a moment of squeamishness,” he allows, but he’ll oblige. “I’m proud of that song,” he says.
Which is not to say he hasn’t moved on. In 1977, after a string of effervescent pop hits (“Candida,” “Knock Three Times,” “Gypsy Rose”) with his backup singers Dawn, the chunky-heeled crooner announced he was quitting music, a move he now says he made under the influence—or rather the lack thereof. “I quit caffeine, nicotine and cocaine cold turkey,” says Orlando. “I thought I was manic depressive, but it was withdrawal and stress.”
Four months later he was back, without Dawn (Telma Hopkins now stars in ABC’s Family Matters; Joyce Vincent Wilson sings backup for Smokey Robinson). There would be no more hits, but TV movies, Broadway (he starred in Barnum in 1981) and solo performing, he insists, have made him happier than his glory days did. “I’m on top of my game now,” says Orlando, who lives in a condo by a lake with his second wife, Frannie Amormino, 38, their daughter Jenny Rose, 3, and his son Jon, 24, from his first marriage. And if you want proof that he has really changed, get this: “Johnny Carson once did a joke about me committing suicide by jumping off my platform shoes,” Orlando says. “Back then, I thought, ‘These shoes are cool!’ Now I think, ‘Oh, my God, I wore that stuff?’ ”