Why Do Some Performers Never Retire?

It isn’t just because they need the money to support ex-wives and gambling habits. Just as addictive is the act of performing: applause is a drug, and they need to score. And then there are the artists who want to die in harness, even though they are long past their prime. Liza Minnelli (center) has often said that she wants to drop dead on the stage, and people who’ve seen her having to be carried around by chorus boys lately tell me that she’s already halfway there. Frank Sinatra (right), in his final years, had to be prompted through his most famous songs with a large autocue, in a voice that was a husky shadow of his once impeccable art. The great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson absent-mindedly repeated tunes at his last, sad shows. Last week, B.B. King (left), 88, whose “farewell” tour was in 2006 when he was already diminished by diabetes, apologized to a complaining crowd in St Louis for his erratic performance.

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