The Transcendence of Richard Tucker - the Man, the Artist, and Religion

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From humble beginnings on the Lower East Side in New York City to an acclaimed Hazzan and then to an internationally celebrated operatic tenor, Richard Tucker's life bridged many different circles of our social and religious societies. Some profound examples are: receiving his first honorary doctorate from Notre Dame in 1965 from Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, selected to sing the Panis Angelicus in Latin at Robert Kennedy’s funeral in 1968 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, being the first and only artist to have a funeral on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House on January 10, 1975, and being the first Jew to have a Requiem Mass delivered by Father Hesburgh at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on October the 14th, 1975. 

I am so proud to be one of Richard Tucker’s three sons, and to have had a father who was so much larger than life. A man who lived the American Dream, and was honored to sing for five U.S. presidents at the White House. 

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Richard Tucker - Great American Tenor and Zionist

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Richard Tucker was a great American tenor and international operatic star, as well as a proud Zionist. His love for the United States and Israel was even demonstrated by performing not only for the American troops in Vietnam (1967) but also for the IDF in Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War. So impressive!

My father’s love of his country and passion for the nascent State of Israel truly influenced and shaped my life as I grew up in the Tucker household. Subsequently, I have tried to instill these qualities upon my family through philanthropy and adhering to traditional Jewish values.

Flirting With Death

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The simple pleasures of life can be more appreciated and accentuated when one confronts a serious and morbid experience. For example, a beautiful sunrise, a conversation with friends or loved ones, the satisfaction of a job well done, preparing for the day independently, or even waking up alert one more time. 

As a senior resident in ophthalmology, I faced such a life-threatening challenge. In 1972, I was admitted to a university hospital in Miami with an acute and undiagnosed illness of progressive paralysis and with nothing but uncertain medical options. There were no existing MRI’s or CAT scans, and all the attending physicians had conflicting opinions. I chose to follow the advice of one medical expert from the department of neurology who explained to me and my family that his unorthodox treatment would either stabilize or cure my paralysis, or possibly kill me outright! He even described to my wife among the several outcomes that a life in a respirator was a possibility.

That night I laid in bed with a tracheotomy surgical kit at the ready in case my breathing became incapacitated. 

Upon awakening the next morning, I looked out my window to a welcoming and beautiful sunny day. However, at the windowsill was my hospital roommate, a young resident from neurology who just stared at me. He had been admitted for metastatic melanoma and was undergoing treatment. So exhilarated that I was breathing on my own, I spontaneously exclaimed to him my joy at the sight of a simple sunny day. “Only for you,” was his sad and melancholy response. 

Light can have different meanings for various people, but for me, light is part of “creation” and the beginning of a new and positive day. 

The Robin and the Rose


I never had a chance to say goodbye to my father before he died suddenly on January 8, 1975. He was scheduled to perform a concert in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with his close friend and colleague, the great baritone Robert Merrill, but that never happened due to his premature and sudden death hours before the performance.

His funeral on stage at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center attended by four thousand mourners was singular and a testament to his long and celebrated career as a leading tenor for over 30 years.  A front page obituary in the New York Times and major news reports shocked the world with the news of his untimely death. There was no time initially for me, nor my two brothers, and more importantly, for my mother, to mourn privately since this tragic announcement was so public.

But following the ritual of Shiva at my parent’s home in Great Neck, Long Island, I returned to my house in Cincinnati, Ohio, with my wife and four children on a frigid winter day. It was at my house that we experienced a “paranormal” event as we entered the front door. With freezing temperatures and snow and ice on the ground, I witnessed a dead robin lying at the door post and a fresh flowering red rose rising above a snowdrift just be behind this fallen bird. A red rose was always present backstage in my dad's dressing room; the robin was his favorite bird; and the color red was emblematic for his nickname, Ruby.

At that moment, when asked by my wife what this all meant, I could only respond that I “had no doubt that the robin and the rose were blessed reminders that my father would dwell in my house and in my heart forever.”

Inspiration for The Hard Bargain and Selecting a Writer

I have been told many times that I am an excellent raconteur , and thus, always attracted great interest and enthusiasm when people have inquired about my life experiences with my iconic father. This memoir is a testament to the extraordinary life that my dad lived and the awesome career he helped me to pursue. My story illuminates the world of opera, the long path to become a physician, the importance of hard work and the lucky break, and the Jewish American saga.

However, this riveting story needed a special writer to capture my voice and reveal the clash of wills between a famous father and his hard-driving middle son. After trying a few writers, I finally found Burton Spivak who was that gifted person. Serendipitously, I connected with Burton on the golf course at my club in Connecticut. He captured the narrative in vivid detail and elegant prose with a compassionate and honest guide to both young and older men and women about the turmoil and love in relationships between parents and children. 

Although the libretto was mine , Burton was my Puccini in its expression.

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Everyone Needs a Good Teacher

Without the exceptional teachers in my life The Hard Bargain would not have been written. I was privileged to be exposed to some of the most brilliant, academic  minds that shaped my career path. But, also, I was lucky to be a son of Richard Tucker who taught me some of the most valuable life lessons.

There were four individuals who stood above all the rest. The first was Ms. Grace Warner, my elementary school teacher in Great Neck, Long Island, who took a troubled young boy and instilled the gift of learning. She set a compass that stayed with me throughout my life. The second teacher was Dr. John McLean, Chief of the Department of Ophthalmology at Cornell Medical School, who ironically was a big fan of mine when I sang at numerous Cornell dinner parties. Although he was enthusiastic about my vocal talent, he would be the one who influenced my decision to become an ophthalmologist. Then there was Dr. Edward Norton, Professor and Chairman of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Florida. He set the highest bar for me for excellence and ethics in the practice of ophthalmology with my patients.

I dedicated my memoir, The Hard Bargain, to my father who was my greatest mentor of all. What I thought was parental indifference as a young man, I now recognize as my dad's type of tough love that turned out to be , for me, parental wisdom.

Stay tuned to hear more from me, and visit my homepage:

Dr. David Tucker

Second Blog for The Hard Bargain - A young boy in Brooklyn


Growing up in Brooklyn with the old Dodger baseball team at Ebbets Field was so exciting and such a great part of my early childhood. It Was Personal!
We lived and breathed baseball, even though our ball field and  diamond was paved in concrete and had two-way traffic at inconvenient times. In our version of the game the sewers on the streets were the boundaries  and the curbs were the bases. Our comparable game was either stick-ball or punch-ball. We slept with our well oiled and  folded baseball gloves under the pillows every evening, and dreamt of being a Dodger hero. To me and many  Brooklynites  the Civil Rights Movement started with second baseman, Jackie Robinson,, in the late 1940's , long before our Government finally passed that landmark law in 1964.

During my early youth in Brooklyn I was quite pugnacious and constantly getting into trouble. I was expelled from parochial school { Yeshiva } for hitting a teacher, frequently got into fist fights with other children, and the police  often would visit our home apartment to render complaints about my behavior to my father. To say the least it was an odd beginning for anyone to eventually become a well respected and responsible physician.

Stay tuned for more on The Hard Bargain.

The Hard Bargain Story -- Introduction

My journey to become a physician was initially directed by my father. Unwittingly, as a young man I never realized until now that parental indifference turned out to be parental wisdom. My story is a complicated but universal father -son saga. What was special in this narrative was that my dad, Richard Tucker, was an iconic figure  and legendary operatic tenor. My ambition was to follow him onto the opera stage, but his vision for me was to become a doctor. Growing up with this powerful man was not easy and at times humiliating. Our clash of wills was both frustrating and hilarious. This odyssey of music and medicine was played out on various stages around the world, but finally the last act revealed my true destiny.

In my formative years, my family lived modestly in Brooklyn, New York where my father held the esteemed position of cantor at the Brooklyn Jewish Center and where Rabbi Israel Leventhal was its renowned spiritual leader. However, once my father joined the Metropolitan Opera Company in 1945 as a leading tenor and became an international superstar, our lives dramatically changed. It was CAMELOT!  Going to the Met and watching my father perform, multiple television appearances, traveling abroad to many countries, illustrious guests at our dinner table, and visiting the White House. My dad sang for five American Presidents.

So, was it unreasonable for me then to believe that I could follow in his footsteps? 

STAY tuned to hear more about my memoir, The Hard Bargain {}.