Newley was born in the London district of Hackney, the son of Frances Grace Newley and George Kirby, a shipping clerk. He had five siblings, Maxene (b. 1926), John (b. 1927), Joanne (1928–1965), Linda (b. 1929) and Belinda (b. 1932). He was Jewish through his maternal grandmother. His parents, who had never married, separated during his early childhood, and his aunt and uncle brought him up through unofficial adoption. During the Second World War he was evacuated to a foster home in the country area safe from the Blitz aerial bombing attacks on London.
Although recognised as very bright by his teachers, he was uninterested in school, and by the age of fourteen was working as an office boy for an insurance company. When he read an ad in The Daily Telegraph, headed "Boy Actors Urgently Wanted" he applied to the advertisers, the prestigious Italia Conti Stage School, only to discover that the fees were too high. Nevertheless, after a brief audition, he was offered a job as an office boy on a salary of 30 shillings (£1.50) a week plus tuition at the school. While serving tea one afternoon he caught the eye of producer Geoffrey de Barkus, who cast Newley as "Dusty" in the children's serial, The Adventures of Dusty Bates.
Newley's first major film roles were Dusty Bates in The Adventures Of Dusty Bates and as Dick Bultitude in Peter Ustinov's Vice Versa (1948) followed by the Artful Dodger in David Lean's Oliver Twist (1948), based on the Charles Dickens novel. He made a successful transition from child star to actor in British films of the 1950s, broken by his national service. During the 1950s he appeared in many British radio programmes and for a time appeared as Cyril in Floggits starring Elsie and Doris Waters. But it was probably the film Idol on Parade (1959) that most changed his career direction. In the film he played a rock singer called up for national service; the story was somewhat inspired by Elvis Presley having recently been drafted for army service in the United States. The 1958 film No Time to Die (aka Tank Force) cemented Newley's position as a leading screen actor.
Newley's successful pop music career as a vocalist began in May 1959 with the song "I've Waited So Long", a number 3 hit in the UK charts thanks to the exposure it received as being featured in the film Idol on Parade. This was quickly followed by his number 6 hit "Personality" and then two number-one hits in early 1960: "Why" (originally a 1959 US hit for Frankie Avalon) and "Do You Mind?" (written by Lionel Bart).
The 1960 ATV series, The Strange World of Gurney Slade, which Newley devised and starred in, ran for one series. A comedy series of six half-hour programmes, it completely rejects the sitcom format, being made without a laughter track or studio audience. It has an unusual premise: Newley's character is trapped inside a television programme which is Gurney Slade itself. As a songwriter, he won the 1963 Grammy Award for Song of the Year for "What Kind of Fool Am I?", but he was also well known for "Gonna Build a Mountain", "Once in a Lifetime", "On a Wonderful Day Like Today", "The Joker" and comic novelty songs such as "That Noise" and "The Oompa-Loompa Song", and his versions of "Strawberry Fair" and "Pop Goes the Weasel". He wrote songs that others made hits including "Goldfinger" (the title song of the James Bond film, Goldfinger, music by John Barry), and "Feeling Good", which became a hit for Nina Simone and the rock band Muse, as well as a signature song for singer Michael Bublé. It was featured in a jam recorded live at the Fillmore West for Traffic's 1969 LP, Last Exit. It has also been covered by Joe Bonamassa on his album The Ballad of John Henry. His compositions have been recorded by artists as diverse as Harry Connick, Jr. and Mariah Carey.
He wrote ballads, many with Leslie Bricusse, that became signature hits for Sammy Davis Jr., Shirley Bassey and Tony Bennett. During the 1960s he also added his greatest accomplishments on the London West End theatre and Broadway theatre stage, in Hollywood films and British and American television.
With Leslie Bricusse, he wrote the musical Stop the World – I Want to Get Off in which he also performed, earning a nomination for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. A hit in London and on Broadway, it was made into a (poorly received) film version in 1966, but Newley was unable to star in it because of a schedule conflict. The other musicals for which he co-wrote music and lyrics with Bricusse included The Roar of the Greasepaint—the Smell of the Crowd (1965) and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), based on the children's book by Roald Dahl.
When he collaborated with Bricusse the two men referred to themselves as the team of "Brickman and Newburg", with "Newburg" concentrating mainly on the music and "Brickman" on the lyrics. Ian Fraser often did their arrangements. For the songs from Hieronymous Merkin, Newley collaborated with Herbert Kretzmer.
In 1963, Newley had a hit comedy album called Fool Britannia!, the result of improvisational satires of the British Profumo scandal of the time by a team of Newley, his then-wife Joan Collins and Peter Sellers. It peaked at number 10 in the UK Albums Chart in October 1963.
Newley's contributions to Christmas music are highlighted by his rendition of the "Coventry Carol" which appears on many anthologies. He also wrote and recorded a novelty Christmas song called "Santa Claus is Elvis". And there is a notorious album of spoken poetry which has Newley appearing in the nude on the sleeve with a similarly attired young model.
Newley played Matthew Mugg in the original Doctor Dolittle (a difficult experience in part because of the hostility he endured from the lead actor, Rex Harrison) and he also played the repressed English businessman opposite Sandy Dennis in the original Sweet November. He hosted Lucille Ball's character on a whirlwind tour of London in Lucy in London (1966). He performed in the autobiographical, Fellini-esque and X-rated Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?, which he also directed and co-wrote with Herman Raucher. He appeared as Quilp in Mister Quilp (1975) (based on Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop), for which he composed some songs ('Love Has the Longest Memory of All'). His last feature role, in the cast of the long-running British TV soap opera EastEnders, was to have been a regular role, but Newley had to withdraw after a few months when his health began to fail.
Despite the fact that such compositions as "What Kind of Fool Am I?" and "The Candy Man" (a US Number One single for Sammy Davis Jr. and the Mike Curb Congregation in 1972) became international hits, Newley had less chart success in the United States as a recording artist, charting on the Billboard Hot 100 with four singles from 1960–62, none reaching higher than number 67. However, he later had a number 12 hit on the Adult Contemporary charts in 1976 with "Teach the Children."
In the 1970s he remained active, particularly as a Las Vegas and Catskills Borscht Belt resort performer, game show panelist (most notably "Hollywood Squares)" and talk show guest, but his career had begun to founder. He had taken risks that eventually led to his downfall in Hollywood. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s he worked to achieve a comeback. He briefly appeared on Late Night with David Letterman (when in town to be inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame) to sing the theme to "Viewer Mail." He staged a successful American tour of his Stop The World – I Want To Get Off in 1986–87. The production co-starred a then unknown Suzie Plakson, whom Newley had discovered. The tour yielded her some strong notices and led to a steady career on stage and television. In 1985 he was also featured as the Mad Hatter in Irwin Allen's all-star television adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. In his later years as a mature singer Newley recorded songs from Fiddler on the Roof and Scrooge. He enjoyed his final popular success onstage when he starred in the latter musical which showed in London and toured British cities including Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester, in the 1990s. At the time of his death he had been working on a musical of Shakespeare's Richard III. He died of renal cancer at the age of 67, soon after he had become a grandfather.
In recognition of his creative skills and body of work, Newley was elected to the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1989.
Newley was married four times to:
- Joan Shandell (1948–1955)
- Ann Lynn (1956–1963); one son
- Joan Collins (1963–1970); one daughter and one son
- Dareth Rich (1971–1989); one daughter and one son
His second marriage to Ann Lynn from 1956 to 1963 ended in divorce. A son, Simon, was born to them but died in infancy from a congenital infirmity. He then was married to the actress Joan Collins from 1963 to 1970. The couple had two children, Tara Newley and Sacha (Alexander) Newley. Tara became a broadcaster in Britain and Sacha is a renowned portrait artist based in New York City and represented by four paintings in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. Newley's fourth wife was former air hostess Dareth Rich, and they also had two children, Shelby and Christopher. In an episode of Angela and Friends (Sky One), Tara Newley also mentioned another sister, a third living daughter of Newley.
Newley's stepfather, Ronald Gardner, wound up in Beverly Hills working as a chauffeur but soon ran off with another woman. Newley searched, with the help of a detective, for his biological father, George Kirby and effected a reunion. Newley bought his father a house in Beverly Hills, in the hope that he would reunite with Grace, but this did not happen.
Newley died on 14 April 1999, in Jensen Beach, Florida, from renal cancer at the age of 67. He had first been diagnosed with cancer in 1985, and it returned in 1997 and spread to his lungs and liver. He was said to have died in the arms of his companion, the designer Gina Fratini. He was survived by his five children, a granddaughter Miel, and his mother Grace, then aged 96, who has subsequently died. Since then two more grandchildren have been born: Weston (Tara's second child) and Ava Grace (Sacha's first, with his wife Angela Tassoni).
Newley's life is the subject of a biography by Garth Bardsley called Stop the World (London: Oberon, 2003).
Amongst the many compilations issued are Anthony Newley: The Decca Years (1959–1964), Once in a Lifetime: The Anthony Newley Collection (1960–71), and Anthony Newley's Greatest Hits (Deram). In May 2010, Stage Door Records released a compilation of unreleased Newley recordings entitled 'Newley Discovered'. The album produced with the Anthony Newley Society and Newley's family contains the concept recordings for Newley's self-penned film musicals Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and Mr. Quilp.
Pure Imagination: The World of Anthony Newley and Leslie Briccuse, devised and directed by Bruce Kimmel, opened at the Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice, California, on 7 December 2013.
Newley was an early influence on the rock musician David Bowie, who was a fan of his. The producer of his first album, Mike Vernon, even described his first impression of Bowie as "a young Anthony Newley".1959 "I've Waited So Long" / "Sat'day Night Rock-a-Boogie" (Decca F11127, UK No. 3)
1959 "Idle on Parade" / "Idle Rock-A-Boogie" (Decca F11137)
1959 "Personality" / "My Blue Angel" (Decca F11142, UK No. 6)
1959 "Someone to Love" / "It's All Over" (Decca F11163)
1960 "Why" / "Anything You Wanna Do" (Decca F11194, UK No. 1)
1960 "Do You Mind?" / "Girls Were Made to Love And Kiss" (Decca F11220, UK No. 1; London 1918, US No. 91)
1960 "If She Should Come to You" / "Lifetime of Happiness" (Decca F11254, UK No. 4; London 1929, US No. 67)
1960 "Strawberry Fair" / "A Boy Without a Girl" (Decca F11295, UK No. 3)
1961 "And the Heavens Cried" / "Lonely Boy and Pretty Girl" (Decca F11331, UK No. 6)
1961 "Pop Goes the Weasel" / "Bee Bom" (Decca F11362, UK No. 12; London 9501, US No. 85)
1961 "What Kind of Fool Am I?" / "Once in a Lifetime" (Decca F11376, UK No. 36; London 9546, US No. 85)
1962 "D-Darling" / "I'll Walk Beside You" (Decca F11419, UK No. 25)
1962 "That Noise" / "The Little Golden Clown" (Decca F11486, UK No. 34)
1963 "There's No Such Thing As Love" / "She's Just Another Girl" (Decca F11636)
1963 "The Father of Girls" / "I Love Everything About You" (Decca F11767)
1964 "Tribute" / "Lament to a Hero" (Decca F11818)
1964 "Solitude" / "I'll Teach You How to Cry" (Decca F11883)
1966 "Why Can't You Try to Didgeridoo" / "Is There a Way Back to Your Arms" (RCA RCA1518; RCA 47-8785)
1966 "Moogies Bloogies" (recorded with Delia Derbyshire) [unreleased demo]
1967 "Something in Your Smile" / "I Think I Like You" (RCA RCA1637)
1968 "I'm All I Need" / "When You Gotta Go" (MCA MU1061)
1968 "Sweet November" (Warner Bros. Records 7174)
1976 "Teach the Children" (United Artists 825, US Adult Contemporary No. 12)
1959 "Idle on Parade" – "I've Waited So Long" / "Idle Rock-a-boogie" / "Idle on Parade" / "Sat'day Night Rock-a-Boogie" (Decca DFE6566, UK #13)
1960 "Tony's Hits" – "Why" / "Anything You Wanna Do" / "Personality" / "My Blue Angel" (Decca DFE6629)
1960 "More Hits from Tony" – "If She Should Come To You" / "Girls Were Made to Love and Kiss" / "Do You Mind" / "Lifetime of Happiness" (Decca DFE6655)
1961 "This Time the Dream's on Me" – "Gone with the Wind" / "This Time the Dream's on Me" / "It's The Talk of the Town" / "What's The Good About Goodbye?" (Decca DFE6687)
1955 Cranks (HMV CLP1082)(Original London Cast)
1960 Love is a Now and Then Thing (Decca LK4343; London LL3156, UK #19)
1961 Tony (Decca LK4406; London PS244)
1964 In My Solitude (Decca LK4600, RCA Victor LSP-2925 )
1965 Who Can I Turn To? (RCA Victor LPM-3347 [Mono]; RCA Victor LSP-3347 [Stereo])
1966 Who Can I Turn To? (RCA Victor 7737 [Mono]; RCA Victor 7737 [Stereo])
1966 Newley Delivered (Decca LK4654)
1966 Newley Recorded (RCA Victor RD7873; RCA Victor LSP-3614)
1966 The Genius of Anthony Newley (London PS361)
1967 Anthony Newley Sings the Songs from Doctor Dolittle (RCA Victor LSP-3839)
1969 The Romantic World of Anthony Newley (Decca SPA45)
1970 For You (Bell Records 1101)
1971 Pure Imagination (MGM SE4781)
1972 Ain't It Funny (MGM/Verve MV5096)
1977 The Singer and His Songs (United Artists LA718-G)
1985 Mr Personality (Decca Tab 84)
1992 Too Much Woman (BBI (CD); GNP/Crescendo 2243)
2012 The Last Song – The Final Recordings (Stage Door STAGE 9031)
1962 This Is Tony Newley (London LL362)
1963 Peak Performances (London LL3283)
1969 The Best of Anthony Newley (RCA Victor LSP4163)
1990 Anthony Newley's Greatest Hits (Deram 820 694)
1990 Greatest Hits (Decca)
1995 The Best of Anthony Newley (GNP Crescendo)
1996 The Very Best of Anthony Newley (Carlton 30364 00122)
1997 The Very Best of Anthony Newley (Spectrum Music 552 090-2)
1997 Once in a Lifetime: The Collection (Razor & Tie RE 2145-2)
2000 A Wonderful Day Like Today (Camden)
2000 On a Wonderful Day Like Today: The Anthony Newley Collection (BMG 74321 752592)
2000 Decca Years 1959–1964 (Decca 466 918-2)
2001 Best of Anthony Newley (Decca)
2002 What Kind of Fool Am I? (Armoury)
2002 Remembering Anthony Newley: The Music, the Life, the Legend (Prism Leisure)
2003 Stop the World! (Blitz)
2004 Love Is a Now and Then Thing / In My Solitude (Vocalion)
2004 Pure Imagination / Ain't It Funny (Edsel)
2005 The Magic of Anthony Newley (Kala)
2006 Anthology (Universal/Spectrum)
2006 Anthony Newley Collection (Universal/Spectrum)
2006 Newley Delivered (Dutton Vocalion)
2007 Best of Anthony Newley (Sony)
2007 Best of Anthony Newley (Camden)
2010 Newley Discovered (Stage Door Records)
1961 Stop the World I Want To Get Off! Original Broadway Cast Album (Writer & Performer)
1965 The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd Original Broadway Cast Album (Writer and Performer)
1966 Stop the World I Want To Get Off! Film Musical Soundtrack (Writer)
1967 Doctor Dolittle Original Film Musical Soundtrack (Performer)
1969 Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness Original Film Musical Soundtrack (Writer & Performer)
1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Original Film Musical Soundtrack (Writer)
1972 The Good Old Bad Old Days Original London Cast Album (Writer & Performer)
1974 Mr. Quilp Original Film Musical Soundtrack (Writer & Performer)
1994 Scrooge Original London Cast Recording. (Performer)