Barry Manilow Remembers Longtime Friend Suzanne Somers: ‘She Was the Sister I Never Had’ (Exclusive)

Barry Manilow pays tribute to his longtime friend Suzanne Somers.

“Suzanne and I have been friends for decades. She was the sister I never had and my confidant forever,” Manilow, 80, says of Somers, who died Sunday at age 76. “We shared triumphs and pains. Her fame in so many fields has overshadowed her actual talent as one of our greatest comedic actresses, a loving mother, an amazing homemaker, and one of the world’s best cooks. I will miss him very much and I hope he is now pain free and at peace.”

Somers “passed away peacefully at home in the early morning hours of October 15,” her publicist told PEOPLE in a statement Sunday. “She survived an aggressive form of breast cancer for over 23 years.”

The life of Suzanne Somers in photos

Barry Manilow and Suzanne Somers in 1978.

Denise Truscello/Getty

Manilow and Step by step The actresses have been friends for over 40 years and were neighbors in Palm Springs.

In 2017, Somers opened up to PEOPLE about his close relationship.

“Our friendship began 35 years ago,” she told PEOPLE at the time. “I was the star of the number 1 show in America and he was the biggest music sensation in the whole world. His iconic look at the time was a white shirt with ruffles and I wore a chicken suit playing Chrissy Snow [on Three’s Company]. Because of this, we were easy for jokes. [The day we met] I went into the recording studio and he was there. He didn’t greet me, but he looked at me and said, ‘Oh, you’re the other one they make fun of,’ and I said, ‘I know—it’s always you and me.’ I immediately felt comfortable with him and was able to let my guard down and just be.”

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Read the love letter that Suzanne Somers’ husband, Alan Hamel, wrote to her the day before she died

Barry Manilow and Suzanne Somers

Barry Manilow and Suzanne Somers in 1986.

Denise Truscello/Getty

Then the actress told how they spent time together

“I consider him family. He’s graced our Thanksgiving table every year for decades and I love him like a trusted brother and friend,” Somers added. “He’s very normal, gets up early every day to watch the sunrise, walks his dogs (I want to be Barry Manilow’s dog in my next life!) and raises chickens. He brings me eggs as a dinner gift, as opposed to a bottle of red wine . He is attentive, kind and extremely generous. He does not jump, sit at the piano or sing at dinner parties (sometimes I wish) because the lighting, acoustics and presentation are not perfect settings there! As an artist above all else, Barry demands perfection. He has developed into a of the best people I know.”

Barry Manilow and Suzanne Somers

Barry Manilow and Suzanne Somers in 2015.

Denise Truscello/Getty

Somers would have turned 77 on Monday.

“Suzanne was surrounded by her loving husband Alan, son Bruce and close family,” her rep added in a statement. “Her family gathered to celebrate her 77th birthday on October 16. Instead, they will celebrate her remarkable life and want to thank her millions of fans and followers who loved her dearly.”

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