Long before his stature in the world of show business earned him the nickname “Chairman of the Board,” Frank Sinatra was known simply as “The Voice.” During a career that saw him go from skinny teen idol to middle-aged playboy, Sinatra’s personality and looks were certainly major factors in his success, but they could never fully overshadow his voice—an instrument that could convey very deep emotions in a sincere, understated way.
“Right from the beginning, he was there with the truth of things in his voice,” is how Bob Dylan put it on May 20, 1998—the day Frank Sinatra was laid to rest. “His music had an influence on me, whether I knew it or not. He was one of the very few singers who sang without a mask. This is a sad day.”
Francis Albert Sinatra died of a heart attack on May 14, 1998, at the age of 82 with his immediate family by his side at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Six days later, some 400 mourners attended his private funeral at the Roman Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, with thousands more lining the streets outside. With the Archbishop of Los Angeles presiding as celebrant, Kirk Douglas and Gregory Peck delivering eulogies and Tony Bennett and Sidney Poitier acting as an honor guard, the service was in every way worthy of a show-business legend, but the guest list also included less-famous members of Sinatra’s famously large entourage, such as Pepe Ruiz, a bartender from Chasen’s, a favorite Hollywood hangout of Sinatra’s during his Rat Pack days.
“It was a little laughs, a lot of love,” Mr. Ruiz told an Associated Press reporter after the service. ”I would not say it was a funeral. It was all his friends getting together to say goodbye.”
On a Sinatra family-sponsored website for several days following the funeral, an excerpt of a letter from Frank to his daughter Nancy was posted that amounted to a brilliant eulogy for Ol’ Blue Eyes by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself. Sinatra wrote: “Those of us who roll with the punches, who grin, who dare to wear foolish clown faces, who defy the system—well, we do it, and bully for us. Of course, there are those who do not, and the reason I think is that (and I say this with some sadness) those uptight, locked-in people who resent and despise us, who fear us and are bewildered by us, will one day come to realize that we possess rare and magical secrets. And more—love.”