Benny Mardones, the 1980s singer-songwriter whose ballad “Into the Night” ascended into the top 20 of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart twice within 10 years, died this morning after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 73.
Mardones had been bedridden at an assisted-living facility in Menifee, Calif. since April, unable to see his wife, Jane. Earlier this month, he finally went home with her and remained under hospice care. He died at 1:15 Pacific time this morning, with Jane by his side.
Frank Malfitano, who brought major music headliners to Syracuse’s popular jazz festival for nearly 35 years, was a longtime friend. He introduced Mardones at the Turning Stone Resort Casino on Dec. 16, 2017, his final show.
“No one thought that ‘The Voice’ would ever be silenced,” Malfitano said Tuesday. “He’s one of us. He’s a huge part of Syracuse. This is such a loss.”
Ruben Armand “Benny” Mardones was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in Maryland. After graduating high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. He later moved to New York City and wrote songs for other musicians. He eventually sang his own lyrics and eventually opened for Peter Frampton and Dave Mason.
Polydor signed Mardones to a record deal, and he started writing with Bobby Tepper. The third song on his first album with Polydor was “Into the Night.” The ballad peaked at No. 11 on Billboard in 1980.
It was that song, Malfitano said, that put Benny “The Voice” Mardones in the elite category of rock vocalists.
“The similarities, I feel, are to people like Elvis and Roy Orbison, who had that operatic quality to their voice. Also, Freddie Mercury,” Malfitano said. “There’s something incredibly unique about Benny Mardones.”
Mardones’ follow-up album flopped. He stopped performing, and got hooked on cocaine and alcohol. After spending 10 years bouncing between Los Angeles and New York City, Mardones moved to Central New York, where he kicked his drug habit. He ended up calling Syracuse his “hometown.”
“When I was addicted to drugs, Syracuse opened its arms to me,” he told syracuse.com. “It gave me my life back. The fans never wavered. The radio stations played my songs.”
He made friends here. Doug LaLone, co-owner of The Gem Diner, was among them.
Mardones would hold court at LaLone’s restaurant. Customers would stop by to chat as he ate his favorite dish, the pepperoni and cheese omelette, hash browns, extra Italian toast and plenty of bacon.
“The thing about Benny is he was very loyal to his friends and fellow musicians,” LaLone said.
Mardones started performing again after moving here. He played to 15,000 people at Long Branch Park in 1983. Two years later, he sold out four shows at the Landmark Theater in downtown Syracuse. He could also draw 24,000 fans to Weedsport Speedway.
His hit song helped with that. “Into the Night” made a comeback in 1989 after an Arizona radio station aired a “Where Are They Now?” segment on Mardones. A Los Angeles radio station then added the tune to its regular playlist, and it eventually returned to No. 20 on the charts.
Malfitano’s favorite Mardones songs were “Way of the World,” “If I Could Have My Way” and “How Could You Love Me.”
“These ballads are sensational,” Malfitano said. “They make ‘Into The Night’ look like a children’s rhyme. Don’t get me wrong, I love that song. It’s his greatest hit. The world knows Benny because of that song. But there are so many songs he recorded that are equally phenomenal.”
Mardones jumped from label to label later in his career, and he’d do occasional concerts. He also kept writing songs. On Jan. 25, 1998, Malfitano watched Super Bowl XXXII at Mardones’ home in Playa del Rey, a beachside community outside of Los Angeles. The Temptations performed the halftime show.
“Not at Benny’s place. Benny Mardones was the halftime show at Benny’s place,” Malfitano said. “He had written a bunch of songs that no one had ever heard before until then. He put on a show right in his living room. Let me tell you, they were amazing. He never stopped.”
Three years later, Mardones was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a degenerative disease that has caused major health complications. By 2017, he fell almost every day. It eventually limited constricted his breathing and stunted his speech. Most recently he had battle pneumonia and relied on antibiotics to clear his lungs.
Yet, he continued to perform every so often, including a 2015 pre-retirement gig at The Palace Theatre with Eddie Money. And then came his final show at the Turning Stone, a Christmas show.
“Benny always knew how to perform for the crowd,” Malfitano said. “He had some P.T. Barnum in him because every night you’d get the greatest show on earth. And that’s what we got. … right up until the last song of his final show.”