CNN Showbiz

'The Chairman of the Board' turns 80

Colleagues reflect on Sinatra's legendary appeal

the man himself

December 12, 1995
Web posted at: 7:00 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Sherri Sylvester

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- It was a big day for "Ol' Blue eyes" as Frank Sinatra celebrated his 80th birthday Tuesday. The legendary crooner was honored at a family dinner Tuesday night, and New York's Empire State Building was lit up in blue to salute the singing legend.

Sinatra, who has been quoted as saying, "You gotta love livin' baby, cause dyin's a pain in the ass," was already living the American dream by the time he sang at a 1943 rally for war bonds.

The son of an immigrant fireman, Sinatra worked at a newspaper in his local Hoboken, New Jersey, neighborhood before winning an amateur hour contest on the radio.

young Sinatra

Though his voice would soon be heard around the world, his daughter Nancy says that his first love was a different kind of music. "He was raised on opera, Italian opera. His admiration for Pavarotti, it goes all kinds of depths. He would have liked to have been like him," Nancy Sinatra says.

His fame would come from making a generation of bobby-soxers swoon. "His sex-appeal was at first invented by the publicity people, getting the girls to scream and carry on and faint" says Anne Jeffreys, his co-star from the film "Step Lively." "And then it became the thing to do, but there was a reason behind it. He had that appeal to women."

The singing sensation quickly became a matinee idol. "There was something about the man larger than the man himself and I think I always felt that when I was working with Frank," says Barbara Rush, Sinatra's co-star in the film "Come Blow Your Horn."

To some, Sinatra defined the post-World War II era. "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," says Tony Bennett.

A vocal chord hemorrhage in 1952 nearly ended his music career. But the movies brought him back.

movie still

In the film "From Here to Eternity," Sinatra's role as Maggio, a part that he fought to play, won him an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor.

He would be nominated again for "The Man with the Golden Arm," in which he played a heroin addict.

Sinatra would make more than 60 films and continue touring in concert.

guess who?

Tom Dreesen, his opening act for years, says that he can count the reasons why Sinatra is unmatched. "One ... Young women want to make love to you. Two ... older women want to mother you. Three ... Little kids wish you were their dad. Four ... other guys want to hang out with you," Dreesen says.

Through the years, any negative press centered on his associations with organized crime families. "They ran the speakeasies during Prohibition, then moved into the jazz clubs. You couldn't work in the biz from the '20s through the '60s without knowing these people," Nancy Sinatra says.

Sinatra duet

After 30 years of fame, Sinatra tried retirement. He later explained why it didn't work. "Cards and letters, kids on my back. The gardener said I was snapping at him. So I went back to work," Sinatra says.

His legacy carries on among those who admire the man and his music. "Frank's the phrasing king," says leader singer Darius Rucker of the band Hootie and the Blowfish. "I think every singer wants to phrase a line in a way that you could say Frank Sinatra did."

"I've had a marvelous life, great friends, good musicians," Sinatra says. "I couldn't ask for one damn thing more."

ABC will air a tribute later this week with stars such as Bruce Springsteen and Hootie and the Blowfish singing Sinatra classics.

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