Yusuf Islam Reflects On His Return

Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, is awarded an honorary doctorate from the University Of Gloucestershire in recognition of his humanitarian work, at The Centaur, Cheltenham Racecourse on November 4, 2005 in Cheltenham, England.
Getty Images/Matt Cardy

This story originally aired on Dec. 3, 2006.

Yusuf Islam, once known as recording artist Cat Stevens, walked away from the music business at the height of his career.

As Stevens, he had written and recorded several hits in the 1970s, including "Moonshadow," "Peace Train" and "The First Cut Is The Deepest," which was also a hit for Rod Stewart and, later, Sheryl Crow. He sold an astonishing 60 million albums.

But after converting to Islam in 1977 and adopting his new name, the singer took a break from recording. This year, he released "An Other Cup," his first original album in nearly three decades.

Rock Stars In Concert
2006 Rock Hall Of Fame

"In this time and period it's probably the best thing I can do because lecturing, politics, God, I've got nothing to do with that," he told CBS News Sunday Morning correspondent Mark Phillips. "I want to just get heart-to-heart, make sure people understand some of the real subtle beauties of what I've discovered."

He said he personally developed and evolved throughout his career.

"A lot of people would have loved me to keep singing," Islam said. "You come to a point where you have sung, more or less ... your whole repertoire and you want to get down to the job of living. You know, up until that point, I hadn't had a life. I'd been searching, been on the road."

Islam was born Steven Dmitri Georgiu, in London in 1948, to a Greek father and Swiss mother. His parents ran a restaurant and by age 12 Steven had picked up the guitar and was writing songs in their upstairs apartment.

An early girlfriend told him he had eyes like a cat. He liked the way that sounded and at age 18, Cat Stevens released his first album. He was a teen sensation, touring Europe, when an almost fatal case of tuberculosis made him question what he and his music were all about.

"I caught tuberculosis and suddenly I've got this medieval disease, you know — middle of modern society, and I'm sort of in hospital. And all of the spotlights are switched off. And now I say: 'Well, hey, where is the light?' And that's what got me going, if you like, looking for a different kind of light."

That near-death experience sparked a creative explosion. While recuperating he wrote more than 40 songs, including many from the albums that would guarantee his place in music history. He was destined for stardom, or so it seemed. But in 1975 while swimming off the coast of Malibu, Calif., another brush with death revealed his true destiny.