Sinatra: Death Of A Legend

Frank Sinatra, 82 and in ailing health for more than a year, died May 14 in the emergency room of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, after suffering a heart attack.

Sinatra was one of the most popular and influential singers of the 20th century - a man known to millions of people around the world as "Ol' Blue Eyes" and "The Chairman of the Board."

The show business world continued to pay tribute to Sinatra, with some longtime family friends visiting his Los Angeles home to give their condolences to his widow, Barbara. Fans gathered outside his home as well and also turned out at his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to place flower

In cities across the country, Sinatra's records flew off shelves
, as fans who grew up listening to him fondly recalled their youths, and people too young to remember his glory days got a first good listen.

With Sinatra, it was never only about music. It was also about style, about women, and about family.

Many have called his the best American music ever sung and the best American voice that ever sang, echoing through the years.

As Frank Sinatra himself told it, it all began with a nickelodeon.

"My father had a piano that was a nickelodeon - put a nickel, and the roller would play," he told CBS News in 1985. "I was about 11 years old or so, and I remember the song was called Honest and Truly, and I had a voice that was like a siren - way up there. And some of the guys would pick me up and put me on the piano, and I would sing along with the piano, and they'd give me a dime, and I thought one day, 'What a great racket this is.'"

Here are the bare facts of Sinatra's life: (To see a more complete timeline, click here.)

  • Born: Francis Albert Sinatra, Dec. 12, 1915, Hoboken, N.J., a 13-pound baby.
  • Married (4 times) to Nancy Barbato, Ava Gardner, Mia Farrow, and Barbara Marx.
  • Children: Frank Sinatra Jr., Nancy Sinatra, Tina Sinatra.
  • Died: May 14, 1998, Los Angeles, Calif.
But the bare facts are just the beginning. Sinatra described his childhood in a rare 1965 interview with CBS News. "I never wanted for anything, but we did not have an abundance of anything. It was a semi-slum area. It was typical of the middle '20s and the late '20s and through the Depression."

It was a blue-collar town, with rival tough-guy neighborhoods. "There were many times when I had to go on an errand that I skirted certain areas of the town. You know, because the cry went up, 'Kill the dago when he comes through te corner'."

But Sinatra was proud of his ethnic heritage and later, when advised to change his name to "Frankie Satin," he refused, becoming a role model for many immigrant families.

"If he could make it to the top with an Italian last name," they said, "so can we."

"Thank God for all these things that have happened," said Sinatra. "And it all began with four immigrants who came to Ellis Island - probably got pushed around, but they made it anyway."

One evening in the early 1930s, Frank took his girlfriend Nancy to see Bing Crosby perform. Daughter Tina Sinatra recalled, "Our mother explains that when they were very young, he would dream, driving in the car, he'd dream aloud to her: 'I really want to do that. I really think I can do that.' And she believed him."

His first big break came in 1935, when Sinatra appeared on the radio talent show, Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour as lead singer of the Hoboken Four.

One day, while he was working as a singing waiter, Sinatra was discovered by trumpeter Harry James, who was starting a new big band. Sinatra joined the James band, then left in 1940 to sing with the better known Tommy Dorsey.

Sinatra and Dorsey were a big hit. But their appearances were billed as "The Tommy Dorsey Band with boy singer Frank Sinatra" - and the boy singer wanted his name out there alone. His hunger for fame changed not only his life, but the very nature of popular music.

In December 1942, the Sinatra solo act got a last-minute booking as the "extra added attraction" to a Benny Goodman show at New York's Paramount Theater. By the time the show was over, the "added attraction" was a national sensation, and the age of the superstar was born.

Sinatra's appearances at the Paramount became the stuff of legend for the so-called Columbus Day riots, when thousands of fans blocked the streets and broke store windows in their furor to see his show.

By the mid-'40s, he and Bing Crosby were the most popular singers of the day. There were grumbles about the punctured eardrum that let Sinatra avoid military service in World War II. But he won over a lot of those critics with his wartime efforts, including propaganda films and a visit to the troops in Europe.

As the war wound down, Sinatra signed a movie contract with MGM to make movies like Anchors Aweigh. Married by then to the former Nancy Barbato, with two children, he packed the family up and moved west.

In 1951, Sinatra scandalized the nation by leaving his wife and three children for movie star Ava Gardner. Their marriage was a tumultuous affair, with accusations and recriminations played out in the gossip pages.

Then one day, Frank Sinatra opened his mouth to sing - and nothing came out. His reputation and his career appeared to be in ruins. The press and the public seemed to be against him, or worse, to not even care.

"I think I as tired," Sinatra told CBS News. "It's not an excuse - it's a fact. I think I was weary, because I had worked tremendously for the years preceding that period, worked constantly 300 days a year or more. But when I was ready, and I had enough rest, I went back to work. I changed record companies, changed attorneys, changed accountants, changed picture companies, and changed my clothes, and just went right back to work again."

To get back to work, Sinatra actually had to beg for a job, playing Maggio in the film From Here to Eternity, a performance for which he won the Oscar for best supporting actor. He made some of his best films in the '50s: dramas like The Man With the Golden Arm and musicals like Pal Joey and High Society, in which he co-starred with Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Celeste Holm.

After his divorce from Gardner, Sinatra developed a reputation as a swinger. Linked romantically with women from Juliet Prowse to Lauren Bacall, he returned to the club scene, both on and off stage.

But behind all the fun and fame, a cloud remained over Sinatra's reputation: allegations of mob connections.

"What I do with my life is of my own doing," Sinatra told CBS News. "I live it the best way I can. I've been criticized on many, many occasions, because of - acquaintances, and what have you."

The 1960s began with Frank Sinatra in tune with the dawning of a new age, lending his voice and his energy to electing John F. Kennedy as president. The relationship became troubled when Robert Kennedy grew concerned about Sinatra's alleged ties to organized crime. Sinatra was crushed when the president traveled to southern California, and then spent the night with Crosby (a Republican) instead of him.

But while Camelot reigned, Sinatra was at the top of the world, starting his own record label and making more movies. And, of course, performing with The Rat Pack of pals who included Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and often, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.

But '50s hip was on a collision course with '60s flower power. Sinatra didn't like rock 'n' roll music. He once said it was "sung, played, and written for the most part by cretinous goons."

He told Walter Cronkite during a CBS interview: "The biggest complaint I have about a lot of the kids who sing today is that I can't understand what they're saying. If I could only understand some of the words, I might be more interested in what they're doing. But I can't. There's no enunciation, and there's no clarity of diction."

The generational differences that dominated the decade came into play in Sinatra's personal life as well. In 1966, he married a budding actress younger than his daughter Nancy - 21-year-old Mia Farrow.

The marriage didn't last long. As Farrow followed the Beatles to India to meditate, Sinatra was playing to is crowd in Las Vegas. The two split in 1968, and Sinatra worked hard to keep up with the times. He announced his retirement from singing in 1971.

It wasn't long before he returned with a new album, a new television special, and a new nickname. Ol' Blue Eyes was back. But there had been a fundamental change. The architect of "attitude" was now the vanguard of the old guard.
Sinatra continued to record, adding songs like New York, New York to his long list of hits.

The image of the swinger was fading from the social scene, and Sinatra finally left his own swinging days behind. He married Barbara Marx in 1976. This one was for keeps.

In the 1980s, Sinatra's old friend Ronald Reagan became president and Sinatra became a fixture in the White House, once again a dominant cultural figure of the time.

There were many galas in the years after the inaugural, most paying tribute to Sinatra himself. He had given money to countless charities and was legendary for his generosity to friends.

In 1983, actor Richard Burton said, "Frank is a giant among the givers of the world. He stands among the tallest. He more than pays rent of the space he occupies on this planet."

But perhaps the biggest tribute of his later years was a musical one, from Sinatra's old rivals of the rock 'n' roll generation, who embraced him as a mentor and inspiration.

In 1993, Sinatra joined U-2's Bono and other rockers on the Duets album, which became his biggest selling record of all time.

The next year, Sinatra won a Grammy Legend award, but his meandering acceptance speech was cut off in the middle. The public embarrassment over the Grammys came amid great speculation about Sinatra's health and memory.

For years, the teleprompter had joined the orchestra as part of every Sinatra show. At times, he appeared to be just going through the motions.

But, then, there were those other times, so well worth waiting for, when one could see the old magic take hold of the man.

And then, everyone was young again.