More than a decade since audiences around the world warmed to his story in the film Shine, pianist David Helfgott is playing better than ever and has no plans to slow down, his wife Gillian says.
The 60-year-old Australian, whose remarkable battle against a mental breakdown inspired the Oscar-winning movie, is touring the world, drawing classical music lovers and the curious who flock to see the humming and murmuring pianist.
He's playing better than ever. (When he performs), that's when he feels happiest and most complete, Gillian told Reuters, as David flexed his fingers on a grand piano at Milan's Blue Note jazz club during a sound check ahead of a recital.
He sometimes says 'Away from the piano, I'm like a little mouse, and as soon as I start playing, I'm a leaping lion'.
Helfgott, born in Melbourne to Polish-Jewish parents, studied at London's Royal College of Music before suffering his breakdown. He re-emerged years later when he gave his first major recital for 12 years in 1984.
But it was the 1997 release of Shine which swept him to international heights and the couple still get emails from fans from Argentina to Finland.
It made David known worldwide, Gillian, who usually gives interviews on behalf of her husband, said.
Both laughed and cried when they saw the film, moved by Geoffrey Rush's portrayal of David which won the actor an Oscar.
Geoffrey was extraordinary, in fact I felt like I had two husbands, she said.
People at airports sometimes call out to David 'Hello Geoffrey', and Geoffrey says he's often called David.
Throughout his recorded performance late on Tuesday, Helfgott murmured and hummed -- a trait that charmed the millions of people who saw the film.
In between pieces which were followed by standing ovations, bursts of applause and loud cheers, he stood up and shook hands with the audience, giving the thumbs up when he was satisfied.
Some lucky ladies even got a kiss.
He wins so many hearts, Gillian said. There's a child-like honesty and it's very appealing. He's very affectionate, he hugs and kisses everybody. He's cheeky too.
Among David's favorite pieces to perform are Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto -- a key element in Shine -- and Liszt. He loves the romantic composers, his wife said, adding he is also a romantic.
He goes out and says goodnight to the sunset, she said.
After the Milan concert, described by well-known Italian pianist Giovanni Allevi as marvelous, the couple head to Rome for a concert in a church. David gives 50-60 performances a year.
A few years ago, I said we would semi-retire and we're busier than ever, Gillian said.
David spreads so much joy through his music and his personality. The world needs a lot of Davids at the moment.
And the pianist himself wants to keep playing.
He said 'Take the concerts away from me and I'd die,' Gillian said. The audiences are really his life.