Paul Anka was born July 30, 1941, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. His parents were immigrants from Lebanon who owned a successful restaurant frequented by Ottawa’s show people. As a small child, Anka delighted in imitating popular singers and performing for neighborhood housewives, paperboys, and sanitation workers. He soon learned a little piano and taught himself how to play the guitar. Anka was generally uninspired by school, except for writing classes, and once intended to become either an actor or a writer, but the allure of music gradually swayed him from these early ambitions. When rock and roll began to flood the music world, Anka was only in his teens but nonetheless was convinced that he could create songs just as good, if not better, than the ones he was hearing on the radio. He began to compose, taking inspiration from Arabic chant melodies that his parents had brought with them from Lebanon and from the rhyming schemes of poet and playwright William Shakespeare.
Paul Anka recorded his first single, "I Confess", when he was 14. In 1957 he went to New York City where he auditioned for Don Costa at ABC, singing what was widely believed to be a lovestruck verse he had written to a former babysitter. In an interview with NPR's Terry Gross in 2005, he stated that it was to a girl at his church whom he hardly knew. The song "Diana" brought Anka stardom as it rocketed to #1 on the Canadian and U.S. music charts. "Diana" is one of the best selling singles ever by a Canadian recording artist. He followed up with four songs that made it into the Top 20 in 1958, including "It's Time to Cry", which hit #4 and "(All Of a Sudden) My Heart Sings", which reached #15, making him (at 17) one of the biggest teen idols of the time. He toured Britain, then Australia with Buddy Holly. Anka also wrote "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" – a song written for Holly, which Holly recorded just before he died in 1959. Anka stated shortly afterward:
"It Doesn't Matter Anymore" has a tragic irony about it now, but at least it will help look after Buddy Holly's family. I'm giving my composer's royalty to his widow – it's the least I can do.
Paul Anka's talent included the theme for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (reworked in 1962 from a song Anka wrote earlier called "Toot Sweet"; it had been rewritten with lyrics and recorded by Annette Funicello in 1959 as "It's Really Love"). Anka composed Tom Jones's biggest hit record, "She's a Lady", and wrote the English lyrics to "My Way", Frank Sinatra's signature song. In the 1960s Anka began acting in motion pictures as well as writing songs for them, most notably the theme for the hit film The Longest Day, in which he made a cameo appearance as a US Army Ranger. For his film work he wrote and recorded one of his greatest hits, "Lonely Boy". He also wrote and recorded "My Home Town", which was a #8 pop hit for him the same year. He then went on to become one of the first pop singers to perform at the Las Vegas casinos. In 1960 he appeared twice as himself in NBC's short-lived crime drama Dan Raven.