Frank Sinatra Dead at 82

May 15, 1998 12:00 AM ET

The end had been near for some time, it seemed, but Frank Sinatra battled back from each of his several hospital visits in the past few years. Just two weeks ago, his fourth wife Barbara had reported him to be in satisfactory health. But late last night, the "Chairman of the Board" faced his final curtain, succumbing to a heart attack at the age of eighty-two. The legendary singer and screen star died at Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. His wife and children (Frank Jr., Tina and Nancy) were at his bedside.

Sinatra, an only child, was born in Hoboken, N.J. on December 12, 1915. He began his singing career in a high school glee club, although he would quit school after less than two months. When he was in his early twenties, Sinatra and his group, the Hoboken Four, won on the Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour. From there, he began a meteoric rise from guest big-band vocalist to the pre-eminent balladeer and song interpreter of the twentieth century.

His earliest forays into the Top Ten -- including the No. 1 hit "I'll Never Smile Again" -- came during his tenure with the Tommy Dorsey orchestra (1940-41), but it was as a solo artist of swinging novelty tunes that he would earn the titles of "The Voice" and "The Sultan of Swoon." His popularity waned at the end of the Second World War, leading to a loss of his recording and film contracts with Columbia Records and MGM in the early Fifties. Vindication, however, came with an Oscar for his role in From Here to Eternity (1953) and a new recording contract with Capitol Records that same year.

By the mid-Sixties, with rock & roll in full-swing, Sinatra was firmly entrenched in the charts, headlining the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival with Count Basie's orchestra and receiving a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. It was also during the Sixties that Sinatra, as leader of the "Rat Pack" (with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.), began his long residency as a Vegas headliner. His reputation as a ladies' man, hard drinker and sterling performer elicited awe in even the most rebellious members of the rock & roll generation, who could not help but acknowledge this man who, against all odds, straddled both tradition and cool. His signature song, 1968's "My Way," was covered by both Elvis Presley and -- in his own unique way -- the Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious. "That Sinatra," the Doors' Jim Morrison once remarked, "No one can touch him."

Testimony to Sinatra's enduring influence on younger performers came with his two Duets albums released in 1993 and '94. The albums contained collaborations between Sinatra and the likes of Bono, Aretha Franklin, Chrissie Hynde, Linda Ronstadt and Willie Nelson. In 1995, Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Salt-N-Pepa and Hootie and the Blowfish joined Sinatra contemporary Tony Bennett to pay tribute to the singer in a two-hour gala birthday celebration, "Frank Sinatra: 80 Years My Way." Sinatra, who had retired from performing and retreated to privacy, agreed to the public celebration on condition that it raise money for charity.

The announcement of the singer's death was greeted with an outpouring of grief from fans and friends, including President Clinton and Bono. The U2 singer remarked, "Frank Sinatra was the twentieth-century, he was modern, he was complex, he had swing and he had attitude. He was the boss but he was always Frank Sinatra. We won't see his like again."

Speaking for a nation mourning the loss of one of its icons, President Clinton told reporters, "I think every American would have to smile and say he really did it his way.'"

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