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Frank Sinatra Jr. Reflects on His Father & His Past in 2015 Interview
When Frank Sinatra Jr. joined his father’s band as musical director and conductor in 1988, Old Blue Eyes was a couple of months past his 72nd birthday. The two toured together and bonded in a way his father’s legendary career would not permit in the earlier days.
“I look back on that period of time now and it’s like it went by in seven weeks,” Sinatra 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 own 72nd birthday, has died of sudden cardiac arrest in Daytona Beach, Florida, 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 teenage 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 being eclipsed by rock and roll.
“I was fired from my contract with RCA Victor 'cause they wanted me to be a rock-and-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 5 about music, and, I flatter myself, I was taught something.”
In 1963 he 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, he spent most of his time touring, including regular appearances in 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 and 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, California. “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 past that 72nd birthday, dying in 1998 of a heart attack at age 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, 'cause 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.”