San Franciscans were paying tribute Friday to the late singer and songwriter Tony Bennett, whose classic song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” made him a Bay Area icon. He died on Friday at 96.
His career spanned over 70 years and his earliest success came with the song “Because of You,” which reached No. 1 on the pop charts in 1951. Throughout his career, he formed close personal and professional friendships with artists across all genres, many of whom he performed with.
Bennett had a special relationship with San Francisco dating back decades.
“Tony Bennett provided us with a song, a spirit, and a magic that is intertwined with the history of this city and who we are,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “His contributions to this city go far beyond words on a page or melodies in the air.”
Numerous San Francisco officials and businesses were planning tributes for the late singer. Breed ordered the city's flags be lowered to half-staff in honor of Bennett's legacy and his love for San Francisco. The Fairmont Hotel, which erected a bronze statue of Bennett in 2016 to mark his 90th birthday, closed the Tony Bennett suite for the weekend in tribute.
In 2018, a block party was held in his honor near the Fairmont and Bennett unveiled the sign designating the 900 block of Mason Street in front of the hotel as "Tony Bennett Way."
“It's obviously quite a sad day for us. We have been fortunate enough to partner with Mr. Bennett and his team for many decades—we're here on Tony Bennett Way,” said a Fairmont Hotel representative Friday morning. “We have plans for next week to celebrate him in the stature he deserves.”
Fairmont staff said Bennett visited the hotel “almost every year” before falling ill in his later years. Locals left flowers at the base of the bronze statue on Friday, and the hotel added a wreath of roses after his death was announced.
“I’m a big San Francisco Giants fan, and at the end of every game, they always play ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’—it’s always a special little moment,” said David Delgado, who brought his 15-year-old dog, Breadcrumb, to pay tribute. “In the song, [Bennett sings] ‘little cable cars climb halfway through the stars.’ I hear it from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.," Delgado added just as a cable car bell rang in the background.
Bennett also fostered close relationships with city legends and politicians, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi.
“Tony was a true New Yorker, but he was also an adopted son of San Francisco,” Feinstein said in a statement. “From riding the cable cars to celebrate their renovation to uplifting us by leading a city-wide singing of ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ during the pandemic, Tony’s love and support for San Francisco have been felt for decades.”
Below is a visual look back at Bennett's unique duets, his charismatic onstage presence and his special connection to San Francisco.