When a celebrity passes, it feels a part of you has been lost. The collective consciousness we all share when it comes to the death of a public figure is compounded by that celebrity’s fame and effect on the world.
While we recently celebrated on December 12, 2015 at the 100th anniversary of one of the greatest singers of all time, we now mourn the passing of his only son, Francis Wayne Emmanuel Sinatra, Jr.
Both were my friends. So with the sudden death of Frank Jr., it is not only the loss of a celebrity, but also a friend.
Hence, the sting is compounded. I can only imagine what his family is going through . His Mom, Nancy, who will be 99 this September 11th; his sisters, Nancy and Tina; his nieces, Amanda and Angela Jennifer; and his son, Michael Sinatra. Add to this all his friends and musicians.
Having a family name like Sinatra, there is no lack of material you can find on his life — and if you’re curious, I encourage you do so. What I want to share is my perception, affection, and a few anecdotes about Frank Jr.
In 2006, at a private home in Malibu, there was a reception for Justice Samuel Alito, who had recently been appointed Supreme Court Justice. There were more than a handful of influential Italian Americans at the cocktail party. I had not seen Frank Jr. for several years.
We had seen each other across the room, made our way to each other, and spent the rest of the evening talking and catching up. He reiterated to me his father’s affection for me, and we began speaking of film. We exchanged numbers, and then would periodically meet up. One of us would call out of the blue and find ourselves at one of several restaurants in the Valley. Sometimes the great character actor Ed Lauter would join us. I had done a Schwarzenegger film called Raw Deal with Ed. So the three of us would laugh and speak of a variety of things . Both Ed and Frank Jr. were survivors of prostate cancer, and they would commiserate about their success.
Frank Jr. loved the arts . Besides knowing more about the GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK than just about anyone, he had an uncanny gift for recollection. He could remember entire scenes from different films of the 30s and 40s, and enjoyed playing different characters, accents et al. in between courses. He could talk of a 1946 plane and tell you the paint that was used on it, where is was made, in what factory and what batch, and how there were subtle differences between them.
We spoke of his kidnapping — something he never spoke of. Women. We spoke of his Grandmother, Dolly (Frank Sr.’s mom), his deep affection for herm and how one time in Vegas while he was performing in the 60s she was watching a political event on TV. His mother and sisters. His manager, Andrea Kauffman. He loved performing audio books and played me several different ones. He took pride in producing the whole project He wanted me to do some with him.
We spoke of his father’s early voice teacher, and how Frank Sr. would do workshops with other great opera singers, such as Robert Merrill or Pavarotti. We talked about the creative process, and how Boris Karloff would sometimes work with his dad on interpretation. We spoke of music, family, fame and frustration.
Frank Jr. had a great sense of humour and was self-deprecating . One of the most touching moments I remember was that in speaking of his own life, he felt he really hadn’t accomplished anything. That broke my heart . He had accomplished much. But having the name Frank Sinatra, Jr., while a wonderful blessing, had its own drawback. For no matter what you accomplish, you have a daunting shadow that always blocks the sun shining directly on you. He wanted to make his own way, so he would sing songs that he loved, and sometimes throw in the chestnuts his father defined.
Last year, he mounted a new production that was his love song to his father — a son paying tribute to his father. I went to his opening night in Orange County and spoke to him the next day. It was a wonderful evening of music and memory. He was triumphant! It covered not only the bright spots, but also some of the darker edges. The great original charts by Nelson Riddle, Quincy Jones, Billy May and others, played and sung beautifully.
Some of you may know I have been singing since 2011. Giving my tribute to the man who gave me my start in show business, I had all-new charts written. I had not used any of the original charts, except a few Quincy Jones had given me. I told Frank Jr. that I believed those gorgeous charts were his, and told him so. It upset me that others would use them, and while I loved them and would have liked to, I vowed to myself not to do so as long as he was with us.
Never had I thought that we would lose Frank Jr. so early. He was 72. In the late 80s he put his career on hold to watch over his dad and take over as his conductor. When asked about what he respected most about his father, Frank Jr. said his honesty, his authenticity in life and in song.
To those who knew Frank Jr., the same could be said for him. He was not a panderer or people-pleaser. He spoke with an unaffected, direct, self-deprecating honesty, and this is how he sang and performed.
There is a song from one of Frank Jr.’s albums I would like to share with you that I love. Please take the time, lift a glass. and listen as you play it (below).
I am saddened he was taken too soon, but none of us have a say in this. What we do have a say in is who we are while we are alive. Frank Jr., like his father, was loyal, honest, respectful, talented, courageous and a good friend.
You did make your mark, Frank. Rest easy, my dear friend.