During childbirth Sinatra nearly died. He weighed more than 13 pounds and his skin was blue because he was unable to breathe on his own after the doctor severed the umbilical cord prematurely. The delivery caused his mother to pass out from the pain and stress of the procedure, and Frank was initially believed to have suffocated during birth. It was his grandmother, a midwife, who submerged the newborn Sinatra in a tub of ice water to force his lungs to contract and gasp for his first breath. He suffered multiple injuries, including a perforated eardrum and lacerations to his face and neck as a result of the delivery room doctor's use of forceps during the procedure. The injuries he suffered at birth later prevented him from serving in WWII. He was rejected with a 4F classification due to his perforated ear, mastoiditis, and an anxious demeanor.
Frank was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, to Italian parents. His father, Anthony, was a boxer and later a fireman; his mother, Natalie (nicknamed Dolly), was an Italian immigrant from Genoa who worked in a chocolate shop.
His love of music and performing began in grade school and his primary musical influences at the time were Rudy Valee and Bing Crosby. During his teenage years he began singing with the Hoboken Four, and the group made an appearance on the talent show Major Bowes and His Amateur Hour in 1935. Shortly after his appearance on the TV talent show, he dropped out of high school to pursue a career in entertainment.
In 1942 Sinatra made his solo singing debut at the Paramount Theatre in New York City. He had already gained a massive fan base during his time with The Tommy Dorsey Band and the solo event was mobbed by his most loyal and rabid fans - the teenage girls known as the Bobby-soxers. This kind of adulation became common in the Rock era when most people had televisions and could see their idols, but the response to Sinatra was shocking, as he created a hysteria when most fans couldn't see him except in a photograph.
Over the course of his career, Sinatra took on a number of nicknames. He was known as The Sultan of Swoon, Ol' Blue Eyes, The Chairman of the Board and the Voice among others. His trademark song phrasing, stage presence, and charm were always present when he sang, and his ability to convey his own feelings of love, loss, heartbreak, and redemption through his live performances only increased with age. His fan base continued to expand with each new generation of listeners that heard Ol' Blue Eyes sing. He announced his retirement from live performances and recording in 1971 at a benefit concert but in typical Sinatra fashion he was back at it two years later when he recorded the Ol' Blue Eyes is Back album in 1973. The following year, he also returned to performing live at the Caesar's Palace Casino in Las Vegas.
Sinatra made his first motion picture appearance in the 1941 film Las Vegas Nights. In 1942 he appeared in Ships Ahoy. His minor roles in these films alongside the Tommy Dorsey orchestra were not credited. His first credited role came in 1943 in the romantic comedy musical Higher and Higher. For the next ten years Sinatra's acting resumé was comprised almost entirely of musical roles that featured his singing and dancing abilities.
It wasn't until From Here to Eternity, for which Sinatra won the 1954 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, that he proved he could handle roles as a leading dramatic actor. He followed the Oscar win with the lead role in The Man with the Golden Arm in 1955, where he played a heroin-addicted drummer named Frankie Machine. The role would earn Sinatra his second consecutive Oscar nomination, this time for Best Actor. He did not win the 1955 Oscar, but his career as a dramatic actor flourished for more than 20 years after his two most critically acclaimed roles.
Sinatra appeared in at least 58 motion pictures over his career. He would also make a countless number of television appearances, his last in 1987 on the hit show Magnum P.I. His final film role was a cameo appearance in the 1984 film Cannonball Run II alongside fellow Rat Pack members Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.
Sinatra's extra-marital affair with Ava Gardner in 1950 began a steep decline in his popularity as both a singer and an actor. By the time they were married in 1951, his musical career had reached an all-time low. He was forced to concentrate on acting after a hemorrhaged vocal cord nearly ended his singing career the previous year. It was his role in the 1954 film From Here to Eternity, for which he was paid only $8,000, that sparked his comeback. With renewed public appeal and a healed throat, Sinatra began singing and recording again. In 1955 he initiated a streak of 20 consecutive records that reached top ten or better on the Billboard music charts and cemented his position back at the top of the entertainment industry.
Contrary to popular belief, Frank Sinatra did not create the Rat Pack. It was movie star Humphrey Bogart that first filled the role of leader to the band of Hollywood rebels that were compared to a pack of rats. Bogart handpicked Sinatra as his successor a few years prior to his death in 1957. It was while on the set of the 1960 film Ocean's Eleven that Sinatra's Rat Pack was recognized as a force in the entertainment industry and around the country. Along with Sinatra, the group was comprised of Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. Lawford was married to Patricia Kennedy and was brother-in-law to future president John F. Kennedy during the Rat Pack's formation.
It was at this time that Sinatra was asked by John F. Kennedy's father, Joseph, to lend his support for JFK's presidential bid in 1960. Sinatra agreed and enlisted the help of his friends in the entertainment industry to perform at the Democratic National Convention in 1959 to help elect the future president. After JFK's narrow victory, Sinatra then coordinated the inauguration gala for the new president.
In addition to his nearly 50-year career in the music and film industry, Frank Sinatra was also a successful entrepreneur. In 1961 he owned his own record label, Reprise, and a 9% share in the Sands Casino in Las Vegas. Sinatra recruited his friends in the Rat Pack to perform at the Casino during the filming of Ocean's Eleven in 1959. They performed at night and filmed during the day. The popularity of their live shows attracted an enormous number of new fans and potential gamblers to the Las Vegas area, and casino profits increased substantially because of Sinatra's involvement.
In November of 1938 Sinatra was arrested following a live performance on charges of seduction. The charge stemmed from a sexual encounter he had with a woman in Hackensack, New Jersey (and Sinatra's dismissal of her afterwards) that led the woman to file charges against him. She initially claimed that she was a virgin prior to the encounter and that he had promised to marry her. When it was later revealed that the woman was already married, the charges were changed to adultery. After the woman's lies were revealed, any hope of a conviction by the state was lost. All charges associated with the encounter were dropped on January 24, 1938. The decision came just 11 days before his first marriage to Nancy Barbato. When Nancy asked Sinatra if his sexual encounter with the Hackensack woman was a lone incident he replied, "No, but she's the last." The couple married on February 4, 1939 and had three children, Nancy, Tina, and Frank Jr.
Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner were married on November 7, 1951, in Philadelphia. It was a volatile relationship characterized by hard drinking, reckless behavior and suicide attempts. It has been reported that Sinatra attempted suicide on two separate occasions as a result of the despair and depression he felt as a result of the relationship.
In 1964 Sinatra began dating actress Mia Farrow, then 19 years old. There was a 30 year age difference between the couple and Sinatra's eldest daughter Nancy was five years older than Mia. They were married in a four-minute Las Vegas wedding in 1966. The couple divorced in 1968 over a dispute about Farrow's role in the controversial Roman Polanski film Rosemary's Baby. Sinatra wanted Mia to appear with him in The Detective, which was being filmed at the same time as Rosemary's Baby. When Mia refused, Frank served divorce papers to her on the set of her film.
Sinatra's fourth and final marriage came in June of 1976 to Barbara Marx. When they began seeing each other in 1974, Barbara was still married to Zeppo Marx of the Marx Brothers. Unlike Mia Farrow and Ava Gardner, Barbara was not pursuing a career in show business and for Sinatra she proved to be the right match for the aging crooner. The marriage was a success and lasted until the time of Sinatra's death nearly 22 years later.
At age 82, Frank Sinatra died of a heart attack on May 14, 1998, at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. His children Frank Jr., Nancy and Tina, along with his wife Barbara, were at his side when he passed away. He was buried at the Desert Memorial Park near Palm Springs, California, following a funeral service at The Good Shepherd Catholic Church. He was buried with a bottle of Jack Daniel's whiskey, a pack of Camel cigarettes, a Zippo lighter and a roll of dimes. The significance of the dimes began when his son Frank Jr. was kidnapped in December of 1963. He needed to make a number of calls from phone booths during the ordeal, and for the rest of his life he was never without a pocket full of dimes. The headstone over his grave lists his full name, the date of his birth, the date of his death, and the line: "The Best Is Yet To Come," taken from the Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh-penned tune of the same name. "The Best Is Yet to Come" was the last song that Sinatra performed live. On February 25, 1995, he sang it for a group of 1200 people on the last night of a golf tournament named for him.
Marinara sauce was one of Sinatra's culinary passions. He published the recipe for his mother's tomato sauce in a cookbook and even launched his own line of jarred spaghetti sauces in the late 1980s.
Sinatra has an asteroid named after him. The rock, called 7934 Sinatra, was discovered on September 26, 1989, by E. W. Elst at the European Southern Observatory.
When trumpeter Harry James - fresh from Benny Goodman's orchestra - signed Sinatra to a contract in 1939, he wanted to give the 24-year-old a glitzier name: Frankie Satin. But the future star would have none of that. He had tried (briefly) changing his name once before to Frankie Trent, but his cousin Ray Sinatra (who worked in the NBC house orchestra) told him: "Are you kiddin'? 'Sinatra's the most beautiful name in the world - it's so musical."
Sinatra is considered one of the first teen idols as his early rise to fame coincided with the birth of a new demographic: the teenager. In a 1946 "Why I Like Frank Sinatra" essay contest, the winning fan wrote, "He is one of the greatest things that ever happened to Teen Age America. We were kids that never got much attention, but he made us feel like we were worth something."
On August 14, 1943, Frank Sinatra pulled the famed, but near-bankrupt, Hollywood Bowl out of debt with one performance. The venue was reluctant to book the teen idol, being that it usually catered to highbrow music, but finally relented and billed him as a "baritone soloist." After a performance that concluded with "All or Nothing At All," he left the stage to a standing ovation.
Sinatra nearly married another Hollywood star after his divorce from Ava Gardner was granted in 1957. He and actress Lauren Bacall became an item after the death of her husband Humphrey Bogart. In her autobiography, Bacall wrote their romance ended when an angry Sinatra discovered the news of their engagement was leaked to the press by a friend of the actress, but it an interview with Turner Classic Movies, she claimed she was the one who broke it off. Either way, the affair was over, and she married actor Jason Robards a few years later.
Sinatra never liked to stray far from his orchestra when recording. "Throughout the years on record dates I've done, I've never been comfortable in a separate room away from the orchestra. I cannot work that way when recording because I feel I need the support of the sound of the orchestra in the room. I know I've driven engineers crazy because they try to isolate me from the velocity of the band," the singer is quoted in The Sinatra Treasures by Charles Pignone.