May 15, 1998. Hard to imagine, but it’s been 20 years since news of the passing of Frank Sinatra shocked and saddened the music world, bringing with it a flood of tributes and recollections throughout the day.
Twenty years later and Frank Sinatra has faded from memory for a lot of people. Some have no idea who he was; others have only vague references to music parents or grandparents listened to. Part of a musical tradition rapidly fading from our culture. An icon of the 20th century, who influenced countless singers and musicians, whose style and aesthetic have come to symbolize much of what America was all about in a dim-distant past.
His was a style of singing imitated over the years, but never improved. The music he sang belonged to a place and time that, for the most part, no longer exists. It was, for its moment, the epitome of Popular culture – his image, the epitome of Youth.
Sinatra died with his wife at his side at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on May 14, 1998, aged 82, after a heart attack. Sinatra was in ill health during the last few years of his life, and was frequently hospitalized for heart and breathing problems, high blood pressure, pneumonia and bladder cancer. He was further diagnosed as having dementia. He had made no public appearances following a heart attack in February 1997. Sinatra’s wife encouraged him to “fight” while attempts were made to stabilize him, and reported that his final words were, “I’m losing.” Sinatra’s daughter, Tina, later wrote that she and her sister, Nancy, had not been notified of their father’s final hospitalization, and it was her belief that “the omission was deliberate. Barbara would be the grieving widow alone at her husband’s side.” The night after Sinatra’s death, the lights on the Empire State Building in New York City were turned blue, the lights at the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honor, and the casinos stopped spinning for a minute.
Sinatra’s funeral was held at the Roman Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, California, on May 20, 1998, with 400 mourners in attendance and thousands of fans outside. Gregory Peck, Tony Bennett, and Sinatra’s son, Frank Jr., addressed the mourners, who included many notable people from film and entertainment.[ Sinatra was buried in a blue business suit with mementos from family members—cherry-flavored Life Savers, Tootsie Rolls, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, a pack of Camel cigarettes, a Zippo lighter, stuffed toys, a dog biscuit, and a roll of dimes that he always carried—next to his parents in section B-8 of Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California.
His close friends Jilly Rizzo and Jimmy Van Heusen are buried nearby. The words “The Best Is Yet to Come”, plus “Beloved Husband & Father” are imprinted on Sinatra’s grave marker. Significant increases in recording sales worldwide were reported by Billboard in the month of his death.
Here is a tribute to Frank Sinatra, done by NPR as part of its All Things Considered program of May 15, 1998.