After losing his wife Linda to cancer, Sir Tom Jones felt a newfound appreciation for life.
And despite being 80-years-old, he has continued to work — including coaching on The Voice U.K. and releasing his new album Surrounded by Time.
In his 41st studio album, Jones’ returns to music after his five-year hiatus from recording, while also continuing to grapple losing his wife of 59 years to lung cancer in 2016.
“When we found out she was sick, I canceled the tour I was on and went to visit her in the hospital in Los Angeles. I told her I wasn’t sure if I would be able to sing anymore,” Jones (who lived with Linda in L.A. since 1974 before moving back to the U.K. following her death) tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday. “But she told me, ‘You’ve got to. There’s no way out for me, I know where I’m going. But don’t die with me.'”
However, five years later, Jones admits he still grappling with the loss. The singer, who was born Thomas Jones Woodward and Linda, had done it all.
“I was asked the other day, ‘Would you ever get married again?'” says Jones. “I couldn’t, because there’s no history with anybody else.”
High school sweethearts, Jones and Linda married in 1957. When they were both 16, Linda was eight months pregnant with their son Mark. To support his young family, Jones worked in construction during the day while moonlighting music.
“If you can get over in a Welsh coal-mining working-man’s club, you don’t have to worry about the Copacabana,” he says, referring to the famed New York City nightspot. “Because you got to be able to sing in order to get up in front of these people.”
And then, in 1964, he caught the attention of late talent manager Gordon Mills, who signed him and gave him his stage name.
“I wasn’t making any money when I first went to London [to work on music],” Jones says. “So until I could send some money home, Linda went and worked in a factory. She didn’t like it, but she did it because she believed in me.”
And while his first single was not a success, everything took off in 1965 when “It’s Not Unusual” shot to the top of the U.K. charts while he was on tour with British singer Cilla Black.
“After a show one night, I went to a pub with these other rock bands from Liverpool and the girls were screaming outside. I thought, ‘Oh, they must be screaming for them,'” he says. “I walked out with a little pork pie in my hand not realizing that ‘It’s Not Unusual’ had gone up the charts so fast. Well, these kids jumped on me! My raincoat was completely in shreds.”
And as Jones began to rise to fame, Linda was always
“She’d say, ‘I married Thomas Woodward, so don’t try that Tom Jones bulls— with me,'” says Jones.
There was even a moment when he played a cue sport with friends a their home on St. George’s Hill, where she laid down the law.
“I was drinking champagne and smoking a cigar and like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, we did this, and that, and the other,'” he explains. “She said, ‘Just a minute. You don’t think you’re really Tom Jones, do you?’ I said, ‘Well … yeah.’ And she said, ‘Well, you’re not. I married Tommy Woodward, so don’t bring that Tom Jones bulls— when I’m around. You could be like that with your friends, but not with me.'”
“This guy that was there fell on the floor laughing,” he continues. “He said, ‘I never heard anybody speak to you like that before.’ I said, ‘Well, nobody else could. But she’s my wife.’ No matter what else I did, she was always first. She kept my feet on the ground.”
However, at the height of rock-star fame, Jones had many well-documented affairs, including one with model Katherine Berkery, which led to his son Jonathan. However he says Linda was always “No. 1 in my life.”
“Anything else apart from that was nonexistent as far as we were concerned as husband and wife,” he says. “It wasn’t an open marriage, though. No, no, no. If I made a move, one squeeze from her and my … It would hurt in a place where you wouldn’t want to hurt.”
After Linda’s death, Jones asked, “who is going to save me from myself now?”
It was then he turned to his son and now-manager, Mark, who “won’t allow me to be ‘Tom Jones,'” he says. A grief therapist also led him to find his strength to sing again by encouraging him to perform Bob Dylan’s ballad “What Good Am I?”
“It’s a song that makes me think about my wife and whether I could have changed anything,” he says. “But I got some musician friends together in a hotel room, and I sang it. I got through it.”
Just two months after Linda’s death, Jones was able to play in front of a crowd live again for the first time at the Hampton Court Palace in London.
“The audience knew what I was going through and was with me,” he says. “I felt the love come up from that stage, and I thought, ‘Wow, I’m okay.'”
“As long as you’re alive and breathing, you can take care of anything,” he says. “Life is more precious to me now, and I want to try and make the most of it.”
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