Tony Oppedisano was friends with the superstar singer for 26 years and was with him when he passed away
By Emma Pryer | The Daily Mirror-London
Frank Sinatra ’s piercing blue eyes glanced upwards.
He fixed a telling look in his best friend’s direction, then summoned the strength to find the right note.
“I’m losing,” he said wearily.
Tony Oppedisano – standing by the singer’s bed, firmly holding his hand – knew Sinatra was preparing to take his final bow.
The pair had been pals for 26 years but grew very close for the last eight years of Frank’s life after another pal Jilly Rizzo died.
So it was fitting Tony was there for the last words uttered by the man dubbed simply The Voice.
“He wasn’t panicked,” Tony recalled.
Frank Sinatra sings in concert
“He was just resigned to the fact that he had given it his best but he wasn’t going to come through.
"I told him I loved him but those were the last words I ever heard him say before he passed away.”
Tony’s revelation comes amid a surge of fresh interest in movie superstar and crooner extraordinaire Sinatra, who would have been 100 next month.
Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, to Italian immigrants on December 12, 1915, Sinatra would become one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th Century, selling over 150 million albums worldwide and winning 11 Grammys.
American singer and actor Frank Sinatra and his wife, Nancy
An Oscar winner , he was the leader of Hollywood’s legendary Rat Pack
alongside pals Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.
Even now, his songs – like My Way, Strangers In The Night and New York, New York – sell by hundreds of thousands every week on iTunes.
Pal Tony is a former jazz musician who became Ol’ Blue Eyes’ trusted co-manager.
The memory of their touching final moments together in a West Hollwood hospital in 1998 remains fresh.
Frank Sinatra, son Frank Sinatra Jr. daughter Tina Sinatra, wife Nancy ((Barbato) Sinatra, daughter Nancy Sinatra in July 1949
Tony recalled: “When I walked into the triage unit he was having a major heart episode.
“His ‘Girl Friday’ – Vine, who was his loyal housemaid – was so upset she couldn’t bring herself to go in and was sat outside.
"His two doctors and a number of technicians were surrounding him when I walked in.
"I sat by him and held his hand, trying to keep him calm. Then his wife Barbara arrived and told him to fight. He struggled to speak because of his breathing.
Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop - posed outside Sands Casino, Las Vegas, 1960
“He just looked up at the two of us and said curtly: ‘I’m losing.’”
Moments later Sinatra fell silent – killed by a heart attack , aged 82.
When the news broke, lights on the Las Vegas Strip – where Sinatra wowed countless fans over the years – were dimmed in his honour.
Casinos stopped spinning for a minute’s tribute.
And the lighting on New York’s Empire State Building switched colour ... to blue, of course.
Frank Sinatra enjoys a moment with his children Frank Jr. and daughter Nancy
Tony, who is the leading contributor to a new documentary about the star’s life called To Be Frank, Sinatra at 100, told how Sinatra’s children Nancy, Frank Jnr and Tina arrived after he died.
He went on: “That night, after I’d signed paperwork that meant the hospital could release Frank’s body, I went back to his house on Foothill Road in Beverly Hills.
"There was already quite a gathering – TV producer George Schlatter, his wife Jolene, friends Jerry and Rita Vale, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme and Frank’s neighbour Jerry Weintraub.”
Frank Sinatra playing the piano in 1954
Tony, now 64, reveals how Sinatra had organised one final set of surprises for his family.
The pair – seen above in exclusive pictures from Tony’s private album – discussed the plans four years earlier.
Tony said: “We were in his house in the desert and he asked if I could do something for him when he passed.
"He said, ‘you’ll know when the time is right.’ He wanted me to send certain things to his family.
"Some of them had no monetary value but were priceless in terms of value to him.
Frank Sinatra with daughter Nancy during "The Dean Martin Variety Show" during the late 1960's in Hollywood
“But most of all I think he wanted his children to know he was always there for them, always thinking of them – even during the years he was supposedly the estranged father.
“I told him it was no big deal but he obviously wanted to impress how important what he was asking me to do was.
“To show his appreciation I got back home from the desert and there was a package waiting for me, with a note that read: ‘This is for you – there’s no discussion.’
Frank Sinatra was close pals with Tony in the last eight years of his life
“It was a one of his gold records, which meant a lot to me.
"I’d given up my performing career to manage and he knew that meant I’d never get one – so he gave me his.
"He also gave me his pinkie ring which has his family Griffin emblem on it and I wear it to this day.
"He was a kind, generous man who was as much a perfectionist in his personal life as he was with his music.”
Despite his wealth, counting the Kennedy clan as close friends, and marrying Hollywood stars Mia Farrow and Ava Gardner, Tony revealed Sinatra always remained a New Jersey boy.
He loved his Coca-Cola flat and would leave it in the fridge to reduce the fizz.
Yet he washed down hot dogs and sauerkraut with 800 dollar bottles of Petrus wine.
And while Sinatra was a legendary lothario linked to the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Judy Garland, Tony reveals he had only one real love – first wife Nancy Barbato.
Nancy Senior, as Tony affectionately refers to her, is now 98 and never remarried after her 12 year union to Sinatra ended in 1951.
In the same year he wed Ava Gardner. They had been having an affair but their marriage ended after just two years.
Sinatra wed Mia Farrow in 1966 and his fourth – and final – wife Barbara Marx 10 years later.
Frank Sinatra and Tony Oppesidano in 1992
Tony said: “He used to beat himself up about Nancy Senior.
"He remained dedicated to her throughout the years and had a great ongoing affection for her, despite being very much in love with Barbara.
“We were on a flight to Europe and he told me how the night he got the Academy Award for From Here to Eternity he came home and she’d thrown an impromptu party for him.
"They were not together then but he still just left.
“He told me, ‘I walked around Beverly Hills with my statue in my hand like a little lost soul.’
Franki Sinatra with Mia Farrow in 1969
"I think he just wanted some space but he could see how disappointed she was. He felt like he had let down his family a lot.
“I told him, ‘did it ever enter your mind they may have forgiven you?’ He said, ‘Maybe they have but I haven’t’.
“With Ava he used to say, ‘you know Tony, anything that burns that hot is destined to burn out.’
"He knew it was never going to last. But Nancy was the ‘quintessential mama’, he’d say. She was always there for him.”
Frank Sinatra with his bride US actress Ava Gardner