On This Day: Frank Sinatra Passes Away at Age 82 in 1998

by Jon D. B.

On May 14, 1988, the world lost arguably the greatest voice of the 20th century as Frank Sinatra died in Los Angeles following years of declining health.

“Ol’ Blue Eyes,” or Francis Albert Sinatra to his mom and pop, was born on December 12, 1915. The little Hoboken, New Jersey babe would grow up to change popular music forever and would dip his fingers into every facet of American culture before his passing some 82 years on.

Sinatra was many things to many people. Often controversial but never without brilliance, the singer, actor, and playboy couldn’t breathe without the press catching wind of it. His entire life was and is forever documented; the public ever-hungry for the latest Sinatra performance or scandal.

Up until about 1948, there was no more famous man in the world. To Sinatra, his decline after decades of music and film gold was inevitable. Britannica cites the blue-eyed crooner as foretelling his own downfall through an inability (see: refusal) to change his musical style or evolve creatively. Frank Sinatra was Frank Sinatra – and that was that.

In reality, however, the public had become aware of “Ol’ Blue Eyes” close ties with organized crime, a lifestyle choice that would follow him of his own will throughout the rest of his long life. If Sinatra cared what others thought of him, he didn’t show it. Instead, he chose an antagonistic relationship with the press at every turn.

Nothing, however, could stand in the way of the undeniable creative force the man was. Through more than 1,400 recordings and over 50 years of performing, Sinatra cemented his body of work as “the most important in American popular vocal music” for critics.

1998: The Death of Frank Sinatra

An infamous critic of Sinatra’s time, Gene Lees, would say that Frank “learned how to make a sophisticated craft sound as natural as an intimate conversation or personal confession.” 

Yet all things, no matter how good or bad, must come to an end. After years of decline and resurgence through further ties to organized crime, the infamous “Rat Pack”, and countless lauded public performances, Frank Sinatra would ultimately face an enemy he could not best: his own health.

After several years of heart trouble and cancer scares, Sinatra would breathe his last on May 14, 1998. At age 82, the legend succumbed to a final heart attack with his fourth and final wife, Barbara, by his side.

According to Barbara Sinatra, her husband’s final words were “I’m losing,” after urging him continually to “fight.”

Through it all, America never lost sight of the immeasurable contributions Frank Sinatra made to popular culture. On the night after his death, NYC set the lights of the Empire State Building to a shimmering blue. The entire Las Vegas strip dimmed their lights, and casinos went silent for a full minute of silence.

Candies, Camels, Jack, and a Roll of Dimes…

Ol’ Blue Eyes himself was buried in a blue business suit. He was then laid to rest with mementos from his closest family. Among them, Britannica cites, were his favorite candies: Life Savers and Tootsie Rolls. A bottle of Jack Daniel’s also lies with Sinatra, alongside a pack of his cigarette of choice, Camel.

With the final additions of a Zippo lighter, a dog biscuit, and the roll of dimes he always carried with him, Frank Sinatra went next to his parents in the Desert Memorial Park of Cathedral City, California.

On his grave, the lyrics of one of his most acclaimed hits, “The Best Is Yet to Come” are engraved above “Beloved Husband & Father.”