Year
1998
Month Day
May 20

Frank Sinatra is laid to rest

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.”

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Sunday Silence wins Preakness Stakes by a nose

On May 20, 1989, Sunday Silence edges by Easy Goer to win the closest race in the 114-year history of the Preakness Stakes by a nose. Sunday Silence had already beaten Easy Goer in the Kentucky Derby by two-and-a-half lengths, putting the horse one victory away from winning the ...read more

Supreme Court defends rights of gays and lesbians in Romer v. Evans

In a victory for the gay and lesbian civil rights movement, the U.S. Supreme Court votes six to three to strike down an amendment to Colorado’s state constitution that would have prevented any city, town, or county in the state from taking any legislative, executive, or judicial ...read more

Charles Lindbergh takes off across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis

At 7:52 a.m., American aviator Charles A. Lindbergh takes off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York, on the world’s first solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean and the first ever nonstop flight between New York to Paris. Lindbergh, a daring young airmail pilot, ...read more

Vasco da Gama reaches India

Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama becomes the first European to reach India via the Atlantic Ocean when he arrives at Calicut on the Malabar Coast. Da Gama sailed from Lisbon, Portugal, in July 1497, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and anchored at Malindi on the east coast of ...read more

Christopher Columbus dies

On May 20, 1506, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus dies in Valladolid, Spain. Columbus was the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings set up colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland in the 10th century. He explored the West Indies, South America and ...read more

Battle for "Hamburger Hill" ends after 10 grueling days

After 10 days and 10 bloody assaults, Hill 937 in South Vietnam is finally captured by U.S. and South Vietnamese troops. The Americans who fought there cynically dubbed Hill 937 “Hamburger Hill” because the battle and its high casualty rate reminded them of a meat grinder. ...read more

Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis receive patent for blue jeans

On May 20, 1873, San Francisco businessman Levi Strauss and Reno, Nevada, tailor Jacob Davis are given a patent to create work pants reinforced with metal rivets, marking the birth of one of the world’s most famous garments: blue jeans. In San Francisco, Strauss established a ...read more

Germans break through to English Channel at Abbeville, France

On May 20, 1940, the German army in northern France reaches the English Channel. In reaching Abbeville, German armored columns, led by General Heinz Guderian (a tank expert), severed all communication between the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in the north and the main French ...read more

President Lincoln signs the Homestead Act

On May 20, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signs the Homestead Act, which opens government-owned land to small family farmers (“homesteaders”). The act gave “any person” who was the head of a family 160 acres to try his hand at farming for five years. The individual had to be at ...read more

English poet W.H. Auden becomes a U.S. citizen

English poet W.H. Auden becomes an American citizen on May 20, 1946. Auden, who was born in 1907 in England, had his first poem published in a collection called Public School Verse when he was 17. He entered Oxford the following year and befriended several men who became ...read more

"The Simpsons" airs 400th episode

On May 20, 2007, Fox’s long-running animated series The Simpsons airs its 400th episode. The Simpsons was created by Matt Groenig, whose comic strip Life Is Hell caught the attention of the Hollywood producer James L. Brooks. Brooks enlisted Groenig to create a cartoon short that ...read more

Convicted sex offender Mary Kay Letourneau marries former victim

On May 20, 2005, ex-teacher and convicted sex offender Mary Kay Letourneau, 43, marries her former student and the father of two of her children, Vili Fualaau, 22. Just nine months earlier, Letourneau had been released from prison after serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence ...read more

United States drops hydrogen bomb over Bikini Atoll

The United States conducts the first airborne test of an improved hydrogen bomb, dropping it from a plane over the tiny island of Namu in the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean on May 20, 1956. The successful test indicated that hydrogen bombs were viable airborne weapons and that ...read more