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Paul Anka: 9 things we learned from his new autobiography

How did Paul Anka go about writing an autobiography? Well, naturally, he did it his way. The former teen-pop phenom, with My Way, recalls his career through a rich barrage of stories and observations, from his Ottawa beginnings to his still-active present (which includes the simultaneous release of a new album Duets). Speaking of duets, the book was written with David Dalton, founding editor of Rolling Stone magazine and an award-winning biographer. Together, Anka and Dalton answer questions, including the following doozies.

1 of 9

What kind of name is Anka? It’s Arabic for “noose.” The Ottawa-born crooner’s grandparents fled from Syria after the grandfather hanged a rapist from a tree. Upon arriving to Canada, the immigration officer heard the word “anka,” and that became their new surname.

Eliseo Fernandez/REUTERS

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Did Chuck Berry tell a young Anka the news? At a concert at Ottawa’s Auditorium in 1957, Anka snuck backstage and pitched the rock music icon the tune Diana. Berry hated it, saying “that’s not a song man, that’s a conversation you have at the Dairy Queen.” Anka later recorded it himself, resulting in a hit.

Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

3 of 9

Did Anka ever get around to teaching Mamie Van Doren how to play the ukulele? Probably not. But she certainly taught her young “teacher” – teenaged Anka was in three movies with the blonde bombshell – a few things.

Jim Ross/The Globe and Mail

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Can we say that Anka was the Bieber of his time? Absolutely. Much like Justin Bieber, he dated a Disney starlet, Annette Funicello, famously the inspiration behind Puppy Love and Put Your Head on My Shoulder. When Anka finally made it to her bedroom, he was surprised to find it filled with stuffed animals: “Some of them were bigger than I was.”


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So, as it turns out, it was Johnny Carson, not Ed McMahon, who had the drinking problem? A “big drinker” and a “bad drunk” in his New York days, according to Anka. Carson was a Sinatra fanatic and also a “real bird dog” when it came to women. One night at Jilly’s bar, he hit on a few mob guys’ girlfriends and was given a good beating for it.


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He wrote the mega-hit My Way for Frank Sinatra, but was Anka okay with the cover version by Sid Vicious? Initially he was skeptical, but eventually Anka was flattered and amused by the adaptation. “[Sid] starts out making fun of it, but then he gets into it,” he recalls. “It’s as if the song midway reaches out and grabs him by the foot.”


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Who was better in bed: Angie Dickinson or Ava Gardner? “Easy question,” Sinatra said (and Dean Martin agreed), when Anka asked him to name the best lover of all the women whose company he enjoyed, “Angie!”


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We loved those swing-orchestral versions of rock tunes such as Nirvana’s Smell Like Teen Spirit on Anka’s Rock Swings album. So, what’s the next wacky cover choice? When Doves Cry, by Prince, is the next possible classic to be “Anka-sized.”


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Speaking of swing, did anyone swing like Sammy Davis Jr.? Nope. The Rat Pack song-and-dance man loved his pornography, cocaine and foursomes – sometimes all at the same time, when Linda Lovelace was involved.

David Barbour/The Globe and Mail

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