Why the pop icon says he "exploded into a million different pieces"

By Jeff Nelson
April 06, 2017 01:00 PM
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Pop legend Barry Manilow opens up for the first time about coming out, finding love, and surviving showbiz for 50 years. Subscribe now for his exclusive untold story — only in PEOPLE.

Barry Manilow is opening up about the dark side of fame.

In the new issue of PEOPLE, the pop icon, 73, looks back on his 50-year career in showbiz and the private world he shares with his manager husband, longtime love Garry Kief.

Manilow catapulted to the top of the charts in 1974 with his breakout hit “Mandy” and stayed there for years, with hits like “Can’t Smile Without You,” “Looks Like We Made It” and “Copacabana (At the Copa).” And the star, a Brooklyn native who had originally entered the music industry as a humble arranger and writer, says the transition to superstar was jarring.

“Fame is difficult to deal with, and it had dropped into my lap. You become an asshole for a while,” Manilow — who will release his new album, This Is My Town: Songs of New York, on April 21 — says. “There’s no book to read; there’s no teacher to teach you anything when it hits you like it did me. It’s just very, very confusing. It’s terrifying, exciting, terrifying, exciting … Plus, I had never wanted it. I had no idea what to do. I exploded into a million different pieces. I thought I’d never pull myself back together again. That’s what happens.”

Credit: REX/Shutterstock

After his first hit album, Manilow believed his star would begin to dim, but with each new release, his fan base grew bigger and bigger.

After a few years, “I realized, ‘I gotta figure out how to do this. This is not going away, and I am miserable,'” Manilow says. “I had to figure out a way of embracing this fame.”

So the pop star retreated to his pre-fame confidants.

“I called my old friends. I got back in touch with my family. I had to get back to who I was, not who I’d become,” he says. “I’d always wanted to make music: I just had to figure out how to be comfortable on a stage and how to treat people.”

Furthermore, meeting his future husband Kief — a Houston native and then a TV exec — in 1978 got his life back on track.

Credit: Martin Schoeller

Manilow “made a deal with myself” to separate his personal and professional lives, “and when I met Garry,” he says, “that was even more of a reason to keep my life private.”

Indeed, the star has remained fiercely guarded over the years and kept his 39-year relationship with Kief a secret, even after the pair married in 2014 during an intimate ceremony at their Palm Springs home. Manilow — who was previously married to his high school sweetheart Susan Deixler for a year before they split — maintains that most of his choices, including not coming out, were made with his fans in mind.

Credit: Martin Schoeller

I thought I would be disappointing them if they knew I was gay. So I never did anything,” says Manilow, whose secret nuptials made headlines in 2015. “When they found out that Garry and I were together, they were so happy. The reaction was so beautiful — strangers commenting, ‘Great for you!’ I’m just so grateful for it.”

Today, Manilow believes his personal privacy pact had a profound influence on the person he is after all these years.

Credit: Martin Schoeller

“I don’t think I’ve changed that much,” he says. “My friends will attest to that. I’m still the same guy the knew when we were much younger, and I think I’m most proud of that because it’s easy to change; it’s easy to get caught up in this superstar fame thing. You can begin to believe all the bulls— they throw at you,” he says.

Still, he has one regret in his career.

“I think I’ve missed out on friendships over the years because of this fame thing that precedes me before I walk into a room,” Manilow says.

  • For more on Barry Manilow’s life, love and legacy, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

Even so, he’s happier than ever in his nearly 40-year romance with Kief.

“Thank goodness we’re still together,” Manilow says, “and we’re in good shape, too.”