Neil Diamond at Jazz Singer rehearsal wearing US Navy hat 1980
“A planned film version of “”You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”” to star Diamond and Streisand fell through when Diamond instead starred in a 1980 remake of the Al Jolson classic The Jazz Singer alongside Laurence Olivier and Lucie Arnaz. Though the movie received poor reviews, the soundtrack spawned three Top 10 singles, “”Love on the Rocks””, “”Hello Again””, and “”America””, the last of which had emotional significance for Diamond. “”‘America’ was the story of my grandparents,”” he told an interviewer. “”It’s my gift to them, and it’s very real for me … In a way, it speaks to the immigrant in all of us.””:89 The song was performed in full by Diamond during the film’s finale. An abbreviated version played over the film’s opening titles.
The song was also the one he was most proud of, partly because of when it was later used: national news shows played it when the hostages were shown returning home after the Iran hostage crisis ended; it was played on the air during the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty; and at a tribute to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the Vietnam Vets Welcome Home concert, he was asked to perform it live. At the time, a national poll found the song to be the number-one most recognized song about America, more than “”God Bless America””. It also became the anthem of his world tour two weeks after the attacks on America on September 11, 2001, when he changed the lyric at the end from; “”They’re coming to America””, to “”Stand up for America!”” Earlier that year he performed it after a request from former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.
The film’s failure was due in part to Diamond never having acted professionally before. “”I didn’t think I could handle it,”” he said later, seeing himself as “”a fish out of water.””:85 For his performance, Diamond became the first-ever winner of a Worst Actor Razzie Award, even though he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for the same role. Critic David Wild noted that the film showed that Diamond was open about his religion: “”Who else but this Jewish Elvis could go multi-platinum with an album that featured a version of ‘the Kol Nidre?’”” Diamond later told the Los Angeles Times, “”For me, this was the ultimate bar mitzvah.””:85
Another Top 10 selection, “”Heartlight””, was inspired by the blockbuster 1982 movie E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Though the film’s title character is never mentioned in the lyrics, Universal Pictures, which had released E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and was the parent company of the Uni Records label, by then called MCA Records, for which Diamond had recorded for years, briefly threatened legal action against both Diamond and Columbia Records.
Diamond’s record sales slumped somewhat in the 1980s and 1990s, his last single to make the Billboard’s Pop Singles chart coming in 1986, but his concert tours continued to be big draws. Billboard magazine ranked Diamond as the most profitable solo performer of 1986. He released his 17th studio album in 1986, Headed for the Future, which reached number 20 on the Billboard 200. Three weeks later he starred in Hello Again, his first television special in nine years, performing comedy sketches and a duo medley with Carol Burnett.
In January 1987, Diamond sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl. His “”America”” became the theme song for the Michael Dukakis 1988 presidential campaign. That same year, UB40’s reggae interpretation of Diamond’s ballad “”Red Red Wine”” topped the Billboard Pop Singles chart and, like the Monkees’ version of “”I’m a Believer””, became better known than Diamond’s original version.”
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