Whether he was called "The Voice," "Ol' Blue Eyes," or "The Chairman of the Board," Frank Sinatra's nicknames all conveyed the adulation and respect reserved for a man who was commonly thought of as the best American popular singer of the 20th century. Sinatra's voice, whether manifested in song or spoken word, caressed the ears of many a listener for more than five decades. Sinatra's legacy -- countless songs and more than 70 films -- continue to ensure him the kind of popularity that has reached beyond the grave to elevate him past the status of mere icon to that of cultural institution.
Born Francis Albert Sinatra on December 12, 1915, Sinatra grew up poor in Hoboken, NJ. After working for a newspaper, he organized the Hoboken Four, a singing group. He got his first break when he won first prize on radio's "Major Bowes Amateur Hour," and went on to perform in nightclubs and on radio. Sinatra then landed the job of vocalist with the Harry James band, and later switched to Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. It was during his tenure with Dorsey's group that Sinatra made his first two films in uncredited roles as a singer in the bands in Las Vegas Nights (1941) and Ship Ahoy (1942).
In 1942, Sinatra's attempt to become a solo artist met with great success, especially in the hearts, minds, and ears of many American women and girls, who flocked to his performances with a fervor that would be replicated two decades later with the arrival of the Beatles. Soon, Sinatra was the "dream-date" idol of millions of American girls and, for several years, was enormously popular on-stage in addition to other venues, including radio, records, and nightclubs. To complement his popularity as a singer, Sinatra began acting, playing in a number of light musical films throughout the '40s. His first real acting role came in Higher and Higher (1943); other notable movies from this period in his career included Take Me out to the Ballgame (1949), co-starring Gene Kelly and Esther Williams, and On the Town, also made in 1949 and co-starring Kelly, who co-directed the picture with Stanley Donen.
Sinatra suffered a career setback in 1952 when his vocal cords hemorrhaged and he was dropped by MCA, the monolithic talent agency. Having established a shaky screen career, he fought back and landed the role of Angelo Maggio in From Here to Eternity (1953) after begging Columbia for the part and then agreeing to take it for a mere 8,000 dollars. His performance won him the 1954 Best Supporting Actor Oscar and a Golden Globe, and, in the process, resuscitated his faltering career. Sinatra appeared in several more movies in the '50s, receiving a 1956 Best Actor Oscar nomination and a British Academy Award (BAFTA) for his portrayal of a drug addict in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955). In addition, he took home a Golden Globe for his performance in Pal Joey (1957). Soon Sinatra was back on top as a performer, earning the nickname "The Chairman of the Board."
Sinatra continued to do frequent film work, making a screen appearance with his Rat Pack colleagues Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop in Ocean's Eleven (1960). Most notably, Sinatra gave a subtle, troubled portrayal of the haunted Captain Bennett Marco in John Frankenheimer's Cold War classic The Manchurian Candidate. His last role was as an aging detective in The First Deadly Sin (1980). Sinatra also appeared on various television shows during the '80s and went on to have hit records as late as the early '90s. His four wives included actresses Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow, and he fathered actor/singers Frank Sinatra Jr. and Nancy Sinatra, as well as another daughter, Tina. Sinatra died of a heart attack on May 14, 1998, in Los Angeles. He is buried in Palm Springs, CA.