Frank Sinatra nearly walked away from performing live at the age of 78 after he flubbed a song one particular evening — but then a man in the audience intervened.
The story — as told by comedian Tom Dreesen, who toured with Sinatra — goes that Ol’ Blue Eyes (born Dec. 12, 1915) in the twilight of his career had “hit and miss nights, but crowds loved him.”
However, one evening, Sinatra had a really tough time, Dreesen once told Kevin Nealon while being interviewed at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles.
‘There’s like 20,000 people in the arena, and I did my thing and it was a good audience,” Dreesen explained. “He went out and did three songs. He was rolling. And then he got on the fourth song and he totally blanked on the lyrics. The orchestra was down in the pit and they kept playing, not knowing that he was lost. And he started whispering into the microphone, ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry.'”
Dreesen said at that moment, he believed it was over for Sinatra as far as being on stage. “We were always wondering, ‘When is he going to lay it down?’ And this is the night.”
The orchestra finally stopped playing, which created an “eerie silence” in the huge arena, Dreesen told Nealon. “By that time, I was stage left and I thought, ‘OK, this is it. I’m going to say, let’s go home, Mr. S. It’s been a great career, but it’s time to go home.’ “
But then something happened.
“He turned around. There was dead silence. He had tears in his eyes. And he looked like he was going to come and lay the microphone down,” Dreesen detailed. “And a guy way up at the top of the audience stood up by himself, and he hollered out, ‘That’s all right, Frank! It’s all right because we love you!’ And he started to applaud. And the guy next to him started to applaud, and then hundreds of people started to applaud and then thousands. And pretty soon, the whole arena was cheering and cheering.”
Sinatra turned around and went back to center stage, Dreesen said. “And he went into the next number, which was ‘Mack the Knife,’ and he absolutely drilled that song. He hit every nuance and every lyric. It was like he was 19 years old again.”
After the song was done, the crowd went nuts, recalled Dreesen.
“He was ready to go onto the next number when he quieted them down. And he started to sing, and he stopped, pointed up to the guy, and said, ‘I love you, too, pal,’ ” Dreesen said. “And he sang for two years after that. That fan brought him from the ashes that night.”
Sinatra died May 14, 1998, at the age of 82.
This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.