In 1990, Paul Grassia was a rising corporate executive with a corner office when tragedy struck: A massive stroke left the 43-year-old paralyzed on one side. Instead of conceding defeat, Grassia turned his energies to regaining basic skills and pursuing a longtime dream. Today, the alumnus known professionally as Paul G. has found success as a Neil Diamond tribute singer and author of the book A Stroke of Luck.
Did you perform while you were at Bentley?
The 1969 yearbook has pictures of me singing in Bentley talent shows. In college I also had a group that was the house band at the Chateau in Waltham, where we did weddings and events.
Was your stroke unexpected?
There were some warning signs, which I ignored. But even if they had caught [the problem], they couldn’t have fixed it. After it happened, the doctors said I’d never walk or talk again. But I didn’t listen to them. After three years in a wheelchair, I learned to walk again – and not only talk, but sing.
What took you to the ranks of international author and recording artist?
Sheer determination. It’s a miracle, and I’m smart enough to realize that. The doctors have no idea how I do what I’m doing. Only 30 percent of my brain works, but I tell you, I’m using all 30 percent.
How did you fasten on becoming a Neil Diamond tribute singer?
During my recovery, I saw him on TV and thought, “Poor man. The older he gets, the more he looks like me.” That got me thinking. I knew I could do his voice, but I had to start talking again. Once I could, I started working on his voice. It took me three years, but I did it.
What’s your performance schedule like?
I travel 10 months of the year. I’ve performed in every U.S. state, in Canada, and in eight countries in Europe. There’s no place I go where people don’t know me. I love that. I’ve performed at Fenway Park three times, which was a thrill because I’m a big Red Sox fan.
My favorite place to perform is the Beacon Resort in Lincoln, N.H., owned by Edward Clermont ’68. I owe a lot to him. He hired me sight unseen when I first came back after my stroke. He gave me a shot when no one else would.
Have you met Neil Diamond?
Sure. The first time was in 1999 when I was performing at Bally’s hotel in Las Vegas. He came to see my show and sat in the back row. Afterward, he came backstage. He jumped up to kiss me — he’s a lot shorter than I am — and said, “I’ve seen them all, and you’re the best.” Right after that, he sent me digital tracks for 200 of his songs, so when I sing, I have Neil’s band backing me up.
What’s your favorite Diamond song? And your least favorite?
My favorite is The Story of My Life. It wasn’t one of his more popular, but it’s very romantic. My least favorite is Sweet Caroline – only because the audience won’t let me leave unless I sing it at least twice.
What are you most proud of?
My book, A Stroke of Luck. It tells the story of how everything good in my life happened after my stroke. I taught myself to write again and just kept writing. At the end of two years, I had a book. Trying to get it published, I sent out 150 manuscripts and it was rejected every time. So I published it myself. I hand it out for free after each performance and now there are 150,000 copies worldwide. It’s been translated into Italian and Cambodian. And I get barrels full of letters from people who say, “Your book really helped me recover.”
I’m a lucky guy. I get to do what I love every day, because I didn’t listen to everyone who told me that I’d be a vegetable. Now, as I like to say, I’m a ham.