For decades Barry Manilow gave the world timeless hits, while keeping his own world a total secret. Now at 73 years old, the music legend is opening up about his life, struggles and, for the first time, his sexuality.
Fiercely private, the pop icon recently welcomed PEOPLE into his Palm Springs home for an exclusive interview and photo shoot with his manager husband Garry Kief — and talked for the first time about their nearly 40-year romance. Says Manilow, “I’m so private. I always have been.”
Born Barry Alan Pincus in 1943 and raised by his single mother Edna Manilow, in Brooklyn, Manilow knew early on his first love was music. His second love was his high school sweetheart Susan Deixler. “I was in love with Susan,” says Manilow of the woman he married after graduating high school, “I just was not ready for marriage.” The star maintains he wasn’t struggling with his sexuality at the time of their one-year matrimony. “I was out making music every night, sowing my wild oats — I was too young. I wasn’t ready to settle down.”
Indeed, Manilow’s personal life took a backseat as he pursued a career in music, writing jingles to pay the bills (State Farm, Band-Aid and others still use them today) and in 1971, taking a gig arranging music for and accompanying a young Bette Midlerat the gay hotspot the Continental Baths. He produced the diva’s first two albums and when her career took off, his followed suit.
After skyrocketing to fame in 1974 with his pop-rock ballad “Mandy,” the Brooklyn native’s star only got brighter with the release of classics like “Looks Like We Made It,” “Copacabana (At the Copa)” and “Can’t Smile Without You.” Then in 1978, he met Kief — a TV executive and Houston native — and “I knew that this was it,” says Manilow. “I was one of the lucky ones. I was pretty lonely before that.”
Soon after, Kief became Manilow’s manager, a role he still holds today, in addition to being President of Barry Manilow Productions.
“He’s the smartest person I’ve ever met in my life — and a great guy, too,” Manilow says.
Adds longtime friend Suzanne Somers: “There’s Barry Manilow the performer, and then there’s the Barry ‘machine.’ It takes enormous savvy and know-how to book and market complicated arena tours, choreograph promotion, direct the entire team and make it look effortless, and that part is Garry’s domain. A major career takes two. Between them, there is enormous comfort and trust.”
Not that it was always easy for the pair. Early on in their relationship, Kief went to a Manilow concert. Afterward, “I got into the car with him, and [the fans] were rocking the car,” Manilow recalls. “He was like, ‘I can’t handle this. It’s not for me.’ I’m glad he stayed.”
And the couple has stayed together for 39 years, all while remaining mum on his sexuality — an open secret to some in his long-devoted, mostly female fan base, a shock to others — and even stepping out and living with once-rumored love interest Linda Allen during his relationship with Kief.
Manilow,who will release his new album This Is My Town: Songs of New York on April 21, admits he’s always been hesitant to discuss the relationship — and to come out publicly, even after he finally married Kief in a clandestine ceremony at their 53-acre Palm Springs estate in April 2014.
In 2015, news of their marriage and Manilow’s sexuality made headlines, something the legend calls “a blessing and a curse.”
Considering his fans, “I thought I would be disappointing them if they knew I was gay. So I never did anything,” says Manilow. Turns out, “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.”