When Frank Sinatra Jr. joined his father’s band as musical director and conductor in 1988, Ol' Blue Eyes was a couple months past his 72nd birthday. The two toured together and bonded in a way his father’s legendary career would not permit in earlier days.
“I look back on that period of time now and it’s like it went by in seven weeks,” Sinatra Jr. told The Hollywood Reporter last year. “It really is amazing. Let’s just say it was a learning experience.”
And now, Frank Sinatra Jr., a couple of months past his 72nd birthday, has died of sudden cardiac arrest in Daytona, Fla., where he was touring with his tribute show, Sinatra Sings Sinatra.
The son of a legend, he remained his own man, though he wouldn’t have denied it if you called him a chip off the old block. Born at the beginning of his father’s career, he grew up getting to know him the same way the rest of America did — through TV, movies and recordings. By the late '50s, the teenaged Sinatra was an accomplished pianist and vocalist who had trained with Duke Ellington and played numerous venues dedicated to jazz, a style of music rapidly becoming eclipsed by rock 'n' roll.
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“I was fired from my contract with RCA Victor because they wanted me to be a rock 'n' roll star,” he laughed. “I didn’t understand that kind of music. And it was, to me, like putting an engine from a limousine on a motor-scooter. What I mean is I had been educated since the age of five about music and I flatter myself I was taught something.”
In 1963, Sinatra became victim of a bizarre kidnapping that ended after four days when his father paid $240,000 in ransom. “It was not something I’d care to live through again,” he said of the incident. “Let’s just say I felt I had beaten the odds and it was a very, very trying experience.” Despite facts to the contrary, some surmised the kidnapping was a publicity stunt, which ultimately undermined his career.
With only six albums between 1965 and 2006, Sinatra spent most of his time touring, including regular appearances in Las Vegas over 50 years, both with and without his father. The latter shows figure in the 2010 CBS legal drama The Defenders starring James Belushi and Jerry O’Connell, co-created by filmmaker Niels Mueller.
"You’re shooting Los Angeles for Vegas, but it sure felt like Vegas when Frank Sinatra, Jr. walked up,” remembers Mueller. Tanya Fischer, who played legal assistant Zooey Waters on the show, wanted advice on her burgeoning music career at the time. So Sinatra invited her and Mueller to dinner at the Pacific Dining Car in Santa Monica. “He said he used to go there with his father. Of course, everyone knew him. He was very generous with his time.”
He was less generous with contemporary pop musicians, noting: “Every time I turn around and I think the quality of what around us that is called music has hit its maximum low, somebody comes up with something deeper down in the sewer. And this is something that never ceases to amaze me.”
Sinatra had beaten cancer twice and was feeling sanguine about his health, even comparing himself to his father, saying, “I’m in a better state of health than he was at that point.” His father lived another 10 years, dying in 1998 of a heart attack at the age of 82.
“From the time we’re children, we’re used to our parents providing for us,” Sinatra said of the time his father asked him to conduct for him. “I always wanted personally to be able to say I put something back. When he reached out to me that time, I was absolutely delighted because I was hoping, just maybe, I would be able to put something back, so it wouldn’t be the only thing I've done my whole life is take.”
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