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October 22, 2014

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Around the World, Tears for the Silenced Voice

NEW YORK -- From Hollywood to the back streets of Hoboken, N.J., from seats of power in Europe and America to gritty barrooms where the old romantic ballads still intoxicate the soul, they mourned Frank Sinatra on Friday, not only as one of the century's most influential singers but as someone who had touched them intimately with a voice, a mood, a poignant memory.

There was an avalanche of remembrance and tribute to go with the sorrow. It came from presidents, prime ministers, fellow entertainers, personal friends and countless ordinary people who recalled the Sinatra magic: crooning at the Dorsey microphone or the Paramount for swooning bobby-soxers, drinking alone in the wee small hours, going down under Fatso's blows in a cell in Honolulu.

"The world has now lost one of the most precious commodities," actor Ernest Borgnine, whose Sgt. Fatso Judson battered Sinatra's Oscar-winning Maggio to death in the 1953 film "From Here to Eternity," said of his old friend. "It's pretty hard because, you know, we loved each other. The world has lost a hell of a man."

Across the nation and halfway around the world, word that the 82-year-old vocalist had died of a heart attack on Thursday night in Los Angeles prompted an outpouring of headlines, news broadcasts, musical tributes and countless personal expressions of grief and admiration for the man and his music.

Fans placed flowers and lighted candles on his three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Purple bunting was draped from City Hall in Sinatra's hometown, Hoboken. New York's tabloid newspapers issued rare extra editions. A flood of specials were broadcast on television. Radio stations everywhere devoted hours to the Sinatra repertory. And a black-bordered Web page appeared in cyberspace.

In Birmingham, England, where he was attending an economic summit meeting, President Clinton described himself as an "enormous admirer" of Sinatra's and said, "I think every American would have to smile and say he really did do it his way."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, also attending the economic summit, called Sinatra "one of the greatest performers of this century," and added, "People like me of a younger generation have grown up with him, and he will be deeply missed."

In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac said that millions around the world were saddened by Sinatra's death. "There was certainly his talent, his charisma and his voice -- which set the rhythm for, accompanied and made our whole era dream -- but there was also his warm and enthusiastic personality," he said.

Director Martin Scorsese, attending the Cannes Film Festival, said: "He was an idol of mine and millions. A great Italian-American, a great American, and a great actor, by the way, a great, great actor." Actress Jeanne Moreau, also at Cannes, said Sinatra would "sing with the angels."

In Italy, where Sinatra's parents were born, television stations flashed bulletins across the screens, the state RAI broadcasting network showed Sinatra specials and led news programs with announcements of his death. Paparazzi, with whom Sinatra had endless feuds, recalled him as a glamorous, temperamental figure on the glitzy Via Veneto during the era of La Dolce Vita.

In Lumarzo, a town near Genoa where Sinatra's mother, Natalie Garavente, was born, Mayor Silvio Lercari spoke of "the pain of thousands," and said: "This is a sad day. We've lost a person who is famous the world over." Sinatra's father, Antonio, was a fireman and amateur boxer from Sicily.

In Hoboken, where Sinatra was born in 1915, his presence seemed to be everywhere Friday, although he had shunned the town for more than a decade because some residents had spoken to writer Kitty Kelley for her 1986 book, "His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra."

Besides Sinatra street signs, Sinatra plaques and a Sinatra museum, there were bouquets Friday at rubble that had been the Sinatra birthplace. Nearby, vendors offered Sinatra T-shirts. But Piccolo's Clam Bar, which usually plays nothing but Sinatra records, was silent. "The Voice is silent, so there won't be any music today," said Pat Spaccavento, the owner.

Across the Hudson River in New York, where television and radio stations aired the news and music of Sinatra, one announcer spoke of "Heartbreak in Hoboken," and a forecaster, gloating over a sundrenched day, said: "Skies are clear, except for the small black cloud over Hoboken."

New Yorkers, who ordinarily regard visits from presidents and potentates as little more than traffic obstacles, were overheard on streets and in elevators and offices talking about Sinatra. The town learned of his death in big tabloid headlines and radio and television news programs laced with Sinatra music.

"Extra! Extra!" The New York Post blared in red, and hit the streets with an early morning edition -- its first since the O.J. Simpson verdict in 1995 -- with the news: "Death of a Legend." The Daily News announced "Sinatra Dead" on page one, and mustered a 24-page Sinatra supplement in its first extra edition since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Institutions as well as people expressed a sense of loss. The Friars Club mourned its "beloved Abbot Emeritus Frank Sinatra," and compared him to Jack Benny, George Burns, Enrico Caruso and George M. Cohan. Other tributes, reflecting Sinatra's wide philanthropy, came from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Carnegie Hall and the American Friends of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Gore Vidal, the writer, offered a social commentary on Sinatra and America: "I would say that half the population of the United States over the age of 40 was conceived while their parents were listening to his records. He played a great romantic role in the country. Most singers are pretty bland, mellifluous. Bing Crosby put you to sleep. Sinatra got the blood flowing."

Some, as might be expected, perceived in Sinatra's death a renewal of the commercial engine he had fired for decades: record companies and retailers foresaw a bonanza in album sales, as did publishers of books on Sinatra and those in possession of Sinatra memorabilia: autographs, photographs, concert and movie posters.

At the other end of the spectrum, many of the most touching tributes came from entertainers who had been close to Sinatra. Mel Torme, the jazz singer, spoke of the "ultimate balladeer," and what he called an "everyman, a singer whose style touched a chord in the broadest part of the American psyche."

Vic Damone said: "He was my role model, my mentor, and most importantly, my friend. There will never be another Francis Albert Sinatra. Nobody will ever come close."

Singer Eydie Gorme and her husband and singing partner Steve Lawrence, longtime friends of Sinatra, went to his Bel Air mansion to pay their respects to his family. Afterward, Ms. Gorme called it "the saddest day of my life."

Outside the Sinatra home, many fans gathered, including Brian McCray, 22, who was clad in black and held a candle. "He's my favorite," McCray said. "I've listened to him since I was 6 years old. I have every Frank Sinatra CD. I used to hide them so my friends wouldn't know, but now everyone in my generation seems to like Frank. I just had to come here."

Mia Farrow, who was Sinatra's third wife, said: "Frank was the first love of my life, and he remained a true friend, always there when I needed him. I will miss him more than words can say."

The comedian Steve Allen spoke of "a day when American lyrics were coherent and civilized and clever, and when there was a glorious melody characterizing most of our popular songs." And he added, "He was the No. 1 salesman."

At the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, where Sinatra wintered in the 1950s and '60s, Floyd McSwaine, a bellhop, remembered them all: Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop and Sinatra. "When he walked in the lobby, people would stand up and say, 'Hey, Frank,"' he said. "They were crazy about him. He could have been the president of the United States."

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