Las Vegas Sun

October 1, 2014

Frank Sinatra dies at 82

Frank Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board who did everything his way during a multifaceted entertainment career, died of a heart attack late Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 82.

Sinatra was pronounced dead at 10:50 p.m. Thursday in the emergency room of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, his publicist, Susan Reynolds, said early today.

Barbara Sinatra reportedly was with him when he died, and the rest of his family arrived a short time later.

His entertainment career took him from singing idol of swooning bobby-soxers to Oscar-winning actor to superstardom on the glittering Las Vegas Strip.

During his Las Vegas years, which encompassed a large portion of his career, Sinatra was the head of the famed "Rat Pack" that included performers Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop -- all regulars at the old Sands hotel-casino.

They made movies together, sang together, toured together and partied together en route to becoming show-business legends.

A private funeral is planned.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the Las Vegas News Bureau are asking Strip and downtown hotel-casinos to darken their lights for one minute at 8:30 tonight in memory of Sinatra's contribution to the Las Vegas gaming and entertainment industry.

Sun Publisher Barbara Greenspun, a longtime friend of Frank and Barbara Sinatra, remembered him more for his humanitarian work than for his great accomplishments as an entertainer.

"He went on world tours where he raised millions of dollars for humanitarian causes," Greenspun said, noting that Sinatra was a Sun stockholder in the 1960s.

"(Late Sun Publisher) Hank (Greenspun) and I went on tours with him to Japan and Israel, and he and Hank were very close. That was unusual because Frank didn't always get along with reporters.

"I want to extend my deepest sympathy to his family, and I want them to know we share this great loss."

Other Las Vegans remembered Sinatra for his passion for life.

"He was such a legend and -- if you knew him -- a real good man, but he was a hard man to get to know," Joseph Pignatello, Sinatra's longtime Las Vegas chef, said today.

"He was a wonderful person who loved life and loved to eat."

Six months ago, to lift Sinatra's sagging spirits, Pignatello, who owned the old Villa d' Este restaurant and currently owns the Vesuvio restaurant in Las Vegas, prepared Sinatra's favorite meal -- homemade cheese ravioli and calamari salad -- for him.

"He called me and told me it was the best meal he had had in four or five years," Pignatello said, noting that Sinatra also enjoyed "real thin" veal cutlets.

"Frank never gave orders when he came into Villa 'd Este -- he always left it up to me. And he always had a bottle of Chateau Lafitte with his meals."

Sinatra would consume three or four desserts at a sitting, Pignatello said. His favorites were biscotti, a hard Italian cookie; St. Joseph pastry, a cruller filled with Italian custard; and Boston cream pie.

Pignatello met Sinatra in 1952 and prepared food for him and the Rat Pack on the sets of films shot in and around Las Vegas, including "Oceans Eleven."

Former federal judge Harry Claiborne was Sinatra's personal attorney in the early 1950s.

"It was a down period in his life," Claiborne said. "He was having trouble getting bookings and his career was on a rapid decline. I suppose that is why he came to me, a trial lawyer, to do his business law work for him.

"He had charisma. It was not so much what he sang but rather the personality he projected when he sang those songs. And there was no more loyal a human being than Frank Sinatra."

Claiborne last talked with Sinatra last summer, when his health and spirits were at a low point.

"It was not an enjoyable conversation, but Frank said he was doing OK," Claiborne said. "To the end, he was a warm, friendly gentle man. But, he also was a strong man."

Don Pack, Sinatra's photographer from 1960-80, said the world "has lost one of its most powerful" individuals.

"When this man walked into a room it was total excitement -- everyone, including prominent people, froze," Pack said. "People were in absolute awe of him.

"Every time I hear the song 'That's Life' from now on, I will get a chill when Frank sings the line 'flying high in April, shot down in May.'"

The Riviera hotel-casino, one of the last places in town where Sinatra performed, said today its management and staff are "deeply saddened" by Sinatra's death and that the resort would dedicate one of its suites to his memory.

An engraved plaque will be placed on the door of Suite 2902 in the Monaco Tower penthouse where Sinatra stayed when he performed there in 1990 and '92.

Sinatra was known by three affectionate nicknames: Ol' Blue Eyes, for his bright azure peepers; Chairman of the Board, for his lofty status in the entertainment world; and The Voice, a term shortened by a reporter from a talent agent's proposed The Voice That Thrilled Millions.

Born Francis Albert Sinatra on Dec. 12, 1915, in Hoboken, N.J., Sinatra was the only child of a firefighter who also ran a saloon.

Anthony Sinatra and his wife, Natalie (nee Garaventa), had hoped their son would become a civil engineer. But, Frank, a student-athlete at Demarest High School in Hoboken, detested math.

Instead, his early interests were in the newspaper business. As a teen, he dropped off newspapers for vendors and later was a copy boy for the Jersey Observer.

Reports also were that he covered sports for the paper, but it is not clear whether that actually happened or was part of his great myth created by clever publicity agents.

At age 20, after listening to a song by his idol, Bing Crosby, Sinatra told his girlfriend -- Nancy Barbato, who would become his first wife -- that he wanted to be a singer. He had never taken a singing lesson.

Sinatra began singing in a neighborhood theater with a group called The Hoboken Four. They won a contest on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio show in 1935.

That earned Sinatra, then a skinny 20-year-old, his first professional singing job at the Rustic Cabin in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., in 1937. He also had to wait tables as part of the gig, which paid $25 a week.

But in 1939 -- the year Sinatra married Nancy -- bandleader Harry James watched him perform and signed him to a two-year contract that lasted only six months. Still, he cut his first records -- "From the Bottom of My Heart" and "Melancholy Mood" -- with the Harry James Orchestra.

Later that year, band leader Tommy Dorsey signed Sinatra to a three-year pact as a vocalist with the Pied Pipers. Among their hit songs were "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" and "I'll Never Smile Again."

It was during his stint with the group that Sinatra developed his unique white blues sound and started to attract the screaming bobby-soxers who helped launch his solo career in 1942 with successful concerts at New York's Paramount.

He would go on to record the hits "Witchcraft," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Chicago," "It Was a Very Good Year," "Strangers in the Night," "My Way" and "New York, New York."

His recording of "New York, New York" replaced the 1890s-era "Sidewalks of New York" as the city's anthem.

Amazingly, Sinatra never learned to read music.

A two-fisted drinker and brawler who loved Jack Daniels whiskey, Sinatra engaged in bar fights and feuded with reporters.

Although he was criticized for performing at Sun City in South Africa during the era of apartheid, Sinatra by many other accounts was a crusader for racial equality.

In the mid-1940s, he won a special Oscar for "The House I Live In," a short film about religious and racial intolerance. It was reported that he once punched a waiter who refused to serve a black person.

Time magazine once reported that Sinatra walked out on the christening of his son when the priest refused to allow a Jewish friend to be the godfather. His support of Israel got his movies and records banned in some Arab countries.

By 1946, officials at Columbia Records estimated that Sinatra was averaging 24 songs a year -- a record per month -- and that his platters were selling at a rate of 10 million per year.

Sinatra's first of more than 50 movie roles was in "Las Vegas Nights," a 1941 Paramount Pictures production that began his everlasting link with Las Vegas.

During the 1940s, Frank and Nancy Sinatra had three children -- Nancy in 1940 and Frank Jr., in 1944, both in Jersey City; and Tina in 1948, in Los Angeles. All of them survive him.

In 1949 the bottom fell out of Sinatra's career. He lost his radio job, his New York concerts flopped and he and Nancy split up over his scandalous affair with actress Ava Gardner, who would become Frank's second wife in 1951. He and Gardner later divorced.

Broke and without many offers for work, Sinatra read for a part in the 1953 film "From Here to Eternity." So down was Sinatra on his luck, he took the part for $8,000 -- a fraction of the $150,000 he had earned for prior films. It turned out to be a pivotal decision.

The role of Maggio, a tough Italian soldier, turned Sinatra's career around. He won the Academy Award for best supporting actor and never looked back.

Sinatra followed up with strong film performances in "Guys and Dolls," "The Tender Trap" and "The Man With the Golden Arm."

His songs "The Tender Trap" and "Young at Heart" also were million-sellers at the time.

By the late 1960s, Sinatra, a one-time promising thespian who starred in acclaimed films such as "Pal Joey" and "The Manchurian Candidate," was content to play often silly tough-guy detective roles in films such as "Tony Rome," "The Detective" and "Lady in Cement."

In the 1960s, during the heart of the Beatles era, Sinatra still managed to crack the pop charts with hits such as "Something Stupid," which he recorded with daughter Nancy, "Strangers in the Night," "That's Life" and "Summer Wind."

In 1984, Sinatra played himself -- more accurately, a stereotyped spoof of himself -- in "Cannonball Run II" with fellow Rat Packers Martin and Davis, both of whom preceded Sinatra in death.

Sinatra was the voice of the Singing Sword in the 1988 animated hit, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" His last film role was in 1991 in "Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones."

He also won Emmys for his television specials.

As a recording artist, Sinatra's songs were popular on pop, oldies and adult contemporary radio stations from the mid-1950s to the present.

He appeared on four labels -- Columbia ("That Old Feeling"), Capitol ("The Lady is a Tramp" and "Witchcraft"), his own Reprise Records ("My Way") and Qwest ("LA is My Lady").

In all, Sinatra had 21 gold albums and won six Grammys -- two in 1959, one in 1965, two in 1966 and the Legend Award in 1994. He won the award for Best Male Performer twice.

He is enshrined in the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

In December 1963, Sinatra's son, then 19, was abducted by two armed men from a motel in Stateline, where he was performing. Sinatra, then filming the Rat Pack movie "Robin and the Seven Hoods," flew to Nevada to assist in the investigation.

He paid a $240,000 ransom, and Frank Jr. was set free two days later.

Sinatra was married for a third time in 1966 to actress Mia Farrow -- nearly 30 years his junior -- but they separated in November 1967. In 1976, he was married, for a final time, to Barbara Marx.

Sinatra gave his "farewell concert" after announcing his retirement from show business on March 23, 1971. Twenty-five months later, he ended that retirement by going into the studio to record his comeback album, "Ol' Blue Eyes is Back."

As the years passed, Sinatra's hairline receded, he put on extra pounds and he practically read song lyrics instead of singing them with his rich baritone voice. Still, Sinatra remained in demand as a performer worldwide well into his late 70s.

In 1980, his "Trilogy" album was released. It included the hit "Theme From New York, New York."

In 1994, Sinatra won his first multi-platinum record for "Duet" and platinum records for "Strangers In the Night" (1966) and "Greatest Hits."

In 1996, Sinatra won a Grammy for best traditional pop vocal performance for "Duets II." It was his first competitive Grammy in 29 years.

In the last quarter-century of his life, Sinatra toured the world, regularly played in Las Vegas -- at Caesars Palace and the Golden Nugget hotel-casinos, among others -- and Atlantic City and generally held court over the entertainment industry from his Palm Springs, Calif., home.

He returned to Hoboken in May 1985 to accept an honorary engineering degree from the Stevens Institute of Technology. That same year, Sinatra was awarded the Medal of Freedom by his friend, President Reagan.

He had received the Kennedy Center honor in 1983.

In his later years, Sinatra collected works of art and watched over his vast real estate holdings.

He had not been seen in public since a heart attack in January 1997.

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