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S P E C I A L Sinatra: The songs, the voice, the style

Legendary singer Frank Sinatra dies

Graphic May 15, 1998
Web posted at: 10:57 a.m. EDT (1457 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- "Ol' Blue Eyes," Frank Sinatra, is being mourned Friday around the world by millions of fans after his death from a heart attack. The Sinatra family plans to hold a private funeral. The time and location of the service have not been disclosed.

Sinatra, 82, was pronounced dead Thursday at 10:50 p.m. in the emergency room of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said his publicist, Susan Reynolds. Sinatra's family, including his wife, was with him when he died.

Sinatra was a master craftsman and ranked as one of the most influential singers in this country's history. In more than 200 albums, his music led the evolution of Big Band to vocal American music.

Whether it was in song, on the silver screen or in nightclubs, few could escape the charm of Ol' Blue Eyes. His voice carried over countless phonographs, as lovers huddled listening to tunes like "Try a Little Tenderness," "My Way," "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "Strangers in the Night."

As a matinee idol, he appeared in blockbuster films such as "From Here to Eternity," "The Man With the Golden Arm" and "The Manchurian Candidate."

With some 1,800 music recordings, 60 film credits, nine Grammys and an Academy Award, Sinatra was the grandmaster of entertainment, an American icon of seeming immortality. He recorded more top-40 albums than any artist: 51, three more than Elvis Presley. And he holds an unrivaled record of longevity on Billboard charts, where a Sinatra song was a fixture every week from 1955 to 1995.

FS in
  "From Here to Eternity"   

Or in the sing-song words of broadcaster Howard Cosell: "Frank Sinatra, who has the phrasing, who has the control, who understands the composers; who knows what losing means, as so many have, who made the great comeback, who stands still -- eternally -- on top of the entertainment world. Ladies and gentlemen, from here on in, it's Frank Sinatra!"

From Hoboken to Hollywood

The son of an Italian immigrant fireman, Francis Albert Sinatra started as a copyboy at a hometown newspaper in Hoboken, New Jersey. Not content with a career in journalism he organized a singing group, "The Hoboken Four." His father objected. "Singing is for sissies," he said.

In 1937, Sinatra received his first break when he won first prize on the "Major Bowes Amateur Hour" radio show. He was soon busy with radio appearances and nightclub engagements. From 1939 to 1942 he fronted as a vocalist with the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey bands, making $65 and $100 a week respectively.

FS in Oceana
  Sinatra in "Ocean's 11"   

It was with Dorsey that Sinatra developed his patented singing style, marked by a careful phrasing of lyrics and long melodic lines. Dorsey would glide through music with relative ease, he and his trombone intertwined in romantic harmony. Young Frank took note.

"The thing that influenced me most was the way Tommy played his trombone. He would take a musical phrase and play it all the way through seemingly without breathing for 8, 10, maybe 16 bars," Sinatra wrote in a 1965 Life magazine article. "It was my idea to make my voice work in the same way as a trombone or violin."

Sinatra opted to go solo in 1942, and soon he emerged as America's darling. An eight-week engagement at New York's Paramount Theater led to enormous popularity on stage, on radio, in nightclubs and in musical films. Admiring fans dubbed him "The Voice."

Sinatra singing "New York, New York"
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To many, Sinatra personified the swinging times of post-World War II America.

"It was a time where you brought a flower to your girlfriend, who you were engaged to, and you sat down and swooned to Frank Sinatra. It was a beautiful era," singer Tony Bennett once said.

Barbara Rush, Sinatra's co-star in the film "Come Blow Your Horn," put it more precisely: "There was something about the man larger than the man himself."

But by the early 1950s, Sinatra endured a number of hardships. His longtime marriage to high school sweetheart Nancy Barbato failed after his affair with actress Ava Gardner surfaced. Sinatra married Gardner in 1951. The following year, his vocal cords hemorrhaged and his career appeared finished, especially after his talent agency, MCA, dropped him.

But Sinatra fought back. He begged Columbia Pictures to cast him in Fred Zinnemann's 1953 film "From Here to Eternity." The studio obliged, hiring him for a mere $8,000. He won an Oscar as best supporting actor for his work.

In 1955, he was nominated for a best actor award for his performance in "The Man with the Golden Arm."

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"The Man with the Golden Arm."
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The kudos kept rolling in. He scored big again in "Guys and Dolls," acting alongside Marlon Brando. Meanwhile, his voice returned to top form and his singing style matured. Within a few years, he was a superstar in movies, TV and music -- his popularity, enormous.

"I saw Sinatra and the pope on TV when I was 2 and said, 'Who's that guy with Frank Sinatra?'" comedian Roseanne once quipped.

'You gotta love livin' baby'

Much like his casual on-stage swagger, Sinatra lived life with a confident indulgence. He built one of the most important record companies in the world, Reprise Records, which later merged with Warner Brothers. And he accumulated millions, investing in various business ventures, from industry and real estate to casinos and racetracks. He acquired the nickname "Chairman of the Board of Show Business." Twice more he married, to Mia Farrow and then Barbara Marx.

His motto: "You gotta love livin' baby, 'cause dyin's a pain in the ass."

Sinatra was often criticized for his quixotic tendencies. One minute, he ate lunch with mobsters; the next, he was dining with the president. A man with a hot temper and sometimes brash demeanor, Sinatra barefisted photographers prying into his private escapades on several occasions. Critics also derided him for his unrelenting association with the underworld.

FS in Deadly Sin
  From "The First Deadly Sin"   

But, so too, Sinatra was known for his benevolence. He took stars under his wing during the 1950s after Hollywood blacklisted them. He also donated millions to charitable causes.

"We lost track of how much he raised for charities around the world -- way up in the millions," daughter Nancy once said.

His generosity won him the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 1971 Academy Awards. Shortly afterward, he announced his retirement from entertainment world. And in June 1971, he performed at what was billed his last public performance, ending the show with the line: "Excuse me while I disappear."

But Ol' Blue Eyes couldn't stay away. He toured the nation with Sammy Davis and Lizi Minnelli in the late 1980s and he turned out another album, "Duets," in the early 1990s. President Ronald Reagan awarded him with the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor. In 1994, he was honored at the Grammys with the prestigious Legend Award for his lifetime of musical accomplishments.

Singer Vic Damone once said, "There will never be another Frank Sinatra. He is all by himself with what he's done with his life as a performer and as a man. He's had his ups and downs, but he really is a great, great man."

More than anything, Sinatra left behind a legacy few will ever forget.

"There are, in this world, just talented people, and Frank was one of them. He had passion," Rush once said.


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