When Frank Sinatra Died There Was Drama, Lots Of Drama. Would We Have Expected Anything Less?
In May 1998, Frank Sinatra asked his daughter Tina how far away the new millennium was. According to the biography Sinatra: The Life, when Tina told him it would come in about 18 months, he responded, “Oh, I can do that. Nothin’ to it.”
Days later, he was dead.
Frank Sinatra’s health had been declining for several years. PBS reports that he suffered breathing problems, high blood pressure, pneumonia, bladder cancer, and dementia in his final years.
He hadn’t appeared in public since his first heart attack in January 1997, but just a month before his death, his wife Barbara had told the Las Vegas Sun that he was doing just fine.
“The rumors are just crazy,” she said. “You can’t believe it. He’s doing very well… He’s strong and walking around. We’re enjoying friends.”
But on May 14, 1998, Sinatra was rushed to the hospital after suffering another heart attack. The ambulance carrying him made it to Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in record time because the finale of Seinfeld was airing on television, and millions of people were at home watching it.
Though Barbara didn’t call her husband’s children to let them know they were headed to the hospital, she did inform his manager, Tony Oppedisano, who was by Sinatra’s side when he died.
Far Out Magazine reports that Oppedisano later told the Mirror, “His two doctors and a number of technicians were surrounding him when I walked in. I sat by him and held his hand, trying to keep him calm. Then his wife Barbara arrived and told him to fight. He struggled to speak because of his breathing.”
According to Oppedisano, Sinatra responded to Barbara by uttering his final words: “I’m losing.”
“He wasn’t panicked,” Oppedisano continued. “He was just resigned to the fact that he had given it his best but he wasn’t going to come through. I told him I loved him but those were the last words I ever heard him say before he passed away.”
Frank Sinatra was pronounced dead at 10:50 p.m. At 11:10 p.m., doctors called his daughter Tina to inform her that he had passed, sparking a family feud that seemingly persists to this day.
Though initial reports about Sinatra’s death noted that his children were also by his side when he took his final breath, they turned out to be false. In the following years, Sinatra’s daughters Tina and Nancy made the truth about what happened that night very clear.
Nancy later said of her stepmother Barbara, “She was cruel, absolutely cruel. She did not tell us he was dying, we did not know until after he was dead and we were five minutes from the hospital.”
Nancy continued, “I said to myself that night, ‘I will never speak to her again.’ And I haven’t. Not a word.”
Despite the ongoing feud, Sinatra’s family worked hard to make the legendary singer’s funeral an affair worthy of his celebrated life. Family members placed all of Sinatra’s favourite things in his casket: Tootsie Rolls, Camel cigarettes, a Zippo lighter, and a bottle of Jack Daniels. Tina slipped 10 dimes into his pocket, reportedly because the singer always carried change around in case he needed to make a phone call.
Frank Sinatra Jr. and actors Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, and Robert Wagner delivered eulogies, and Sinatra’s song “Put Your Dreams Away” played at the end of the emotional service.
Sinatra was buried at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California, and his gravestone read “The Best Is Yet To Come” and “Beloved Husband & Father.”
However, according to Palm Springs Life, someone vandalized the stone in 2020, chipping away at the word “Husband.” It seems that the perpetrator was never caught, but the gravestone was replaced — and now simply reads, “Sleep Warm, Poppa.”
Despite the controversy surrounding Frank Sinatra’s death, his legacy is that of one of the most celebrated singers in American history. While his final years were filled with health problems and family difficulties, he lived the life he only could have imagined when he started chasing his dreams as a teenager.
Bono, the lead singer of U2, said of the singer after his death: “Frank Sinatra was the 20th 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.”