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Ol' Blue Eyes turns 82

Sinatra launched his singing career after winning an amateur-hour contest on the radio   

Sinatra celebrates with friends and family

December 15, 1997
Web posted at: 2:55 p.m. EST (1955 GMT)

BEVERLY HILLS, California (CNN) -- Legendary entertainer Frank Sinatra celebrated his 82nd birthday Friday in the embrace of friends and family, with greetings from more than 100,000 people who flocked to his World Wide Web site.

"He's a swell guy," said ex-wife Mia Farrow on CNN's "Larry King Live." "He's a loyal man and a kind man and a gentle man."

Sinatra, who hasn't been seen in public since suffering a heart attack a year ago, spent the day with his wife, Barbara, at their Beverly Hills mansion. Friends and family gathered later in the day for a celebration, featuring three birthday cakes.

"He's been doing very well," daughter Tina Sinatra told Larry King. "His sense of humor is intact. His disposition about being somewhat housebound -- it's hard. He's an active man, but it's time to take it slower, and that's what he's doing."

Larry King's tribute to Frank Sinatra
Part 1 icon 9 min. VXtreme video
Part 2 icon 11 min. VXtreme video
Part 3 icon 8 min. VXtreme video
Part 4 icon 14 min. VXtreme video

President Clinton sent a video greeting, concluding with a paraphrase of one of Sinatra's most famous lyrics: "Frank, we've got you under our skin."

Music, movies made Sinatra a star

Sinatra has been quoted as saying, "You gotta love livin' baby, 'cause dyin's a pain in the ass."

And the humble son of Italian immigrants has made the most of his life. By the time Sinatra was singing at war bond rallies in 1943, he was already living the American dream.

Sinatra in
Sinatra made more than 60 films   

Hoboken, New Jersey's native son entered the public eye after winning first prize on radio's "Major Bowes Amateur Hour" in 1937. He already had formed a singing group, "The Hoboken Four." But his first love was a different kind of music: Opera. Daughter Nancy once told Larry King that her father, raised on opera, admired Pavarotti, and "really would like to have been like him." (icon 162KB/14 sec. AIFF or WAV sound )

Instead, he made a generation of young female bobby soxers swoon with his mellow voice.

He recorded more top-40 albums than any artist: 51, three more than Elvis Presley. And as popular as they are, the Beatles never topped his record for most top-10 albums. He holds an unbeaten record on Billboard's charts, where a Sinatra song was a fixture every week from 1955 to 1995.

Actress Anne Jeffreys said his sex appeal was, at first, "invented by the publicity people ... then (swooning) became the thing to do. But there was a reason behind it," she said. "He had that appeal to women."

The singing sensation quickly became a matinee idol in films such as "Step Lively."

Four reasons for Sinatra's popularity

Tom Dreesen, who toured with Sinatra for years, tallied the reasons for his colleague's popularity: "Number one, young women want to make love to you. Number two, older women want to mother you. Number three, little kids wish you were their dad. And number four, the guys want to hang out with you."

A vocal chord hemorrhage in 1952 nearly ended Sinatra's music career, but each time he had a setback, he not only revived it -- he expanded it.

He fought to win the role of Angelo Maggio in the film "From Here to Eternity," which was released in 1953. His portrayal of the young soldier won him an Oscar and a Golden Globe award for best supporting actor.

He was nominated again for his performance as Frankie Machine in "The Man with the Golden Arm," the controversial 1955 film in which he played a heroin addict.

In all, he made more than 60 films as he kept singing. Retirement did not come easily. Although he maintained that a performance in 1971 would be his last, Sinatra went on singing tours through the 1980s, and, in 1990, released the albums "Duets."

His financial holdings -- earned from a variety of business ventures in addition to acting and singing -- are estimated to be worth at least $200 million.

Family denies deathbed reports

Sinatra on his 80th
Sinatra has made few public appearances since his 80th birthday   

Public appearances since his 80th birthday have been rare. He suffered a mild heart attack last January and was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the third time in two month.

His family flatly denies reports that he may be near death. "He is doing very well, thank you very much," his wife has said.

"The outpouring of love from his fans and his friends has been spectacular, and we thank all of them so much."

A few years back, Sinatra summed up his life this way: "I think my life is quite marvelous, and I'm very happy about it. People seem to be appreciating what I'm doing and my work, and I don't think I could ask for one damn thing more."

Correspondent Sherri Sylvester and Reuters contributed to this report.


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