Road Weary at 45, Neil Diamond Yearns to Give TV a Try

updated 05/26/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/26/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

It was unusually hot for May in the unusually affluent Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles. The estate was defended by a series of iron gates and stern signs warning of "Armed Security Response." In a small room off a central courtyard, where a fountain bloomed, sat a worried superstar. His elbow was propped on a large circular table and he was sucking on a cigarette that had burned down to the filter. "Good for one more drag," said Neil Diamond.

The long-popular singer-songwriter was pondering his career. He'd be entitled to ponder even if Headed for the Future wasn't the title of his new album. He's 45 years old. All those endless tours have long since lost their charm. There's a sketch in Diamond's May 25 special, Hello Again, in which he dreams of hosting his own weekly variety show. So someone asks if he'd like to taper off from the road, try a regular TV spot. Something closer to home. He nods. "I've had this secret yearning," he says.

It's not the first time Diamond, for all his wealth and fame, has dreamed about doing something else. For a while it was writing classical music. Then he thought he might be an actor in the rough. He even toyed with the idea of changing his name to Noah Kaminsky, which he thought more substantial. Now, maybe, he could be the new Perry Como. "Maybe CBS will give me a shot," he muses...."My manager will have a stroke if he hears I'm even thinking about this."

Diamond does, however, blame the demise of his first marriage on his touring. He wants to avoid such a risk with second wife Marcia and their children, Jesse, 16, and Micah, 8: "I just hope that they forgive me when they grow up...that they won't grow up hating me too much for not being there."

Lately the notion of family has become more powerful in Diamond's life. His father, Kieve, "one of the most important people in my life," died of a heart attack at 66 while Diamond was touring last year. "My son Jesse was on that leg of the tour and he was very concerned that I would be able to handle doing the show the next day," Diamond recalls. "I told him, 'If I turn to you while I'm onstage and you give me a big smile, I'll get through it.' I turned to him at least once a song, he'd flash me a smile from the wings and we made it through that show. After that, we flew to the funeral."

A few months later Marcia's mother died. It has taken the family time to recover. "We survived '85; let's have some kicks in '86," says Diamond.

His just released album has already received some critical praise. Cash Box called it his "most progressive project in years" and said it "could put Diamond back into the mainstream." He has always been commercially successful and has written a string of pop standards, including Sweet Caroline; You Don't Bring Me Flowers; September Morn; I Am, I Said. He has had more than 30 hit singles, eight platinum and 11 gold albums. There has always been an enduring, though now aging, body of fans waiting to buy out his tours.

Yet Diamond was never totally comfortable with the pop label. He once took a year off to study classical piano. He even tested for the leads in Taxi Driver and Lenny before those roles went to Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman, and when he finally made his acting debut in the 1980 remake of The Jazz Singer, it was an all-around disaster. He is, for better and worse, who he is.

"I'd have to be a fool not to get down on my knees and be thankful every day for the kind of acceptance I've had," Diamond says. He talks about "plugging away in search of the perfect chord, combined with the perfect lyric and the perfect performance." Still, faced with the prospect of a multicity tour to support the new album (there also was a seven-city tour in April), he notes that I Am, I Said, his powerfully autobiographical 1971 hit that seems to spell out his own angst, was "obviously a song written from a personal point of view. I felt as if I had no home. The road was my home."

And so he sits in the small room on the protected Los Angeles estate far from his Brooklyn roots, wearing a royal-blue sportshirt and black polyester slacks. His family is nowhere in sight—Diamond keeps his wife and children away from the press—and he is watching Ryan's Hope. He doesn't like to admit he's a soapie, although when he is asked about his addiction to soap operas, he rises out of his overstuffed chair, walks to the set and turns it down. Not off.

This is how it must be on the road. One or two packs of cigarettes a day. Waiting. Soap operas. Hard habits to break.

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