When someone famous dies, it's a cliche to say it marks the passing of an era. In Francis Albert Sinatra's case, however, it's the truth. "Ol' Blue Eyes," who died Thursday of a heart attack at age 82, was arguably the No. 1 entertainer of the 20th century.
His talent and popularity was extraordinary, mostly as a singer, but also as a movie actor. Remarkably, he had no formal training in either art form. Sinatra, as his signature song says, did it all "My Way.`
The influence this son of Italian immigrants had on America's popular music culture cannot be overstated. He evolved from a big-band singer out of Hoboken, N.J., where he was raised, to the Bobby Sox idol of the 1940s.
"The Voice" soon matured into the nation's premier romantic crooner with a song style and delivery that was enormously admired, much imitated, but never duplicated. His more than 200 albums, still brisk sellers, are testament to his enduring legacy.
Sinatra, also a natural and much-celebrated actor, won an Academy Award in 1953. Additionally, he was a huge hit as a stage entertainer.
"The Chairman of the Board," another moniker Sinatra earned because of his so-called connections (never proved, and always denied) to the mob, used his celebrity to make a mark in politics as well, first as liberal booster of John F. Kennedy and later as a conservative friend of Ronald Reagan.
One way or another, Sinatra's phenomenal life and career have touched the lives of nearly every American. His greatest contribution to the popular culture is that he raised the standard of entertainment quality. Every successful entertainer, especially singers, owes part of that success to the skinny kid from Hoboken, blessed with that magnificent voice.