- Birth name:
- Neil Leslie Diamond
- Date of Birth:
- 24 January 1941 Brooklyn, New York, USA
- 5' 11" (1.80 m)
Neil Leslie Diamond was born in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, New York City on January 24, 1941. His father, Akeeba "Kieve" Diamond was a dry goods merchant, both him and wife, Rose, were Jewish immigrants from Poland. The Diamond family temporarily relocated to Cheyenne, Wyoming during Kieve Diamond's military service during World War II. During their time in Wyoming, Neil fell in love with watching movies of singing cowboys on matinée showings at the local cinema. After the end of World War II, Neil and his parents returned to Brooklyn. He was given a $9 acoustic guitar for a birthday gift which turned on his interest in music. At age 15, Neil wrote his first song which he titled, "Here Them Bells".At Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall High School, Neil sang in the 100-member fixed chorus, with classmate Barbra Streisand, although the two would not formally meet until over 20 years later. Neil and a friend, Jack Packer, formed a duo singing group called Neil & Jack which they sang at Long Island's Little Neck Country Club and recored a single for Shell Records. But the slide failed to sell, and the duo soon broke up.In 1958, Neil entered New York University's pre-med program to become a doctor, on a fencing scholarship. But medicine did not catch Neil's interest as music did and he dropped out at the end of his junior year with only 10 credits shy of graduation. Neil Diamond then went to work for Sunbeam Music on Manhattan's famous Tin Pan Alley. Making $50 a week, Neil worked at tailoring songs to the needs and abilities of the company's B-grade performers. Finding the work unrewarding, Neil soon quit. Renting a storage room in a printer's shop located above the famed Birdland nightclub on Broadway, Neil began to live there and installed a $30 piano, a pay telephone, and set about writing his songs his own way.A chance encounter with the songwriter/record producing team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich led to a contract with Bang Records. In 1966, Neil Diamond recorded his first album, featuring hit singles such as "Solitary Man" and "Cherry, Cherry". That same year, Diamond appeared twice on Dick Clark's American Bandstand TV musical variety show. Also, The Monkees recorded several of his songs which he wrote the music to, including "I'm a Believer" which was a hit in 1967. A number of TV appearances followed including singing gigs on "The Mike Douglas Show", "The Merv Griffin Show", and playing a part as a rock singer on an episode of "Mannix". Filling a musical void that existed between 'Frank Sinatra' and Elvis Presley, Diamond found wide acceptance among the young and old with his songs, but endured criticism that his music was too middle-of-the-road.Diamond split with Bang Records in 1969, and signed a contract with California's Uni label, which he recored his first gold records. In 1970, he introduced British rock star Elton John in his first Stateside appearance at Hollywood's Trobadour nightclub. In December 1971, Diamond signed a $5 million contract with Columbia Records which led to more recording contracts and live concert appearances. In 1972, Diamond took a 40-month break from touring during which he agreed to score the film Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Although Diamond's soundtrack for Jonathan Livngston Seagull earned him a Grammy Award, it was a box-office failure. Despite working with an acting coach since 1968, and talk of a five-picture acting contract with Universal Studios, Diamond remained inhibited by shyness of being in front of a camera. He turned down acting roles in every movie contract he was offered to, among them was Bob Fosse's Lenny (1974), and Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976). However, he did appear as himself with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young in the 1978 documentary, The Last Waltz (1978). He appeared at the 1977 Academy Awards where he presented Barbra Streisand the Oscar for Best Song.In the summer of 1976, on the eve of three Las Vegas shows, Diamond's house in Bel Air home was raided by the police on an anonymous tip of drugs and weapons there. The police only found less than an ounce of marijuana. To have the arrest expunged from his recored, Diamond agreed to a six-month drug aversion program. In 1977, Diamond starred in two TV specials for NBC. He had a cancer scare in 1979, when a tumor was found on his spine which had to be surgically removed, which confined him to a wheelchair for three months. During his recuperation, he was given the script for the lead role in a planned remake of the 1927 early sound film, The Jazz Singer. Signing a $1 million contract to appear as the lead role as a Jewish cantor trying to succeed in the music industry, Diamond, in his first acting role, was cast opposite the legendary Laurence Olivier and Broadway actress Lucie Arnaz. Despite the hard reviews of the film, the production grossed three times it's budget when released late in 1980. In 1981, Diamond's hit single, "America", which was part of the film's soundtrack, was used on news broadcasts to underscore the return of the American hostages from Iran.Aware of his lack of acting talent, Diamond never acted in movie roles again, aside from making appearances as himself. A movie fan, he collaborated on writing the scores of many different movie soundtracks, which can be heard in such films as Cactus Flower (1969), Pulp Fiction (1994), Beautiful Girls, Donnie Brasco (1997), Bringing Out the Dead, and many more. He continues to occasionally perform in concerts and write a vast catalog of music which is recored by both him and other artists.