Frank Sinatra's Family Shares Personal Memories in Honor of His 100th Birthday

Photo: Courtesy Sinatra Family

Dean Martin once famously observed of his friend Frank Sinatra: “It’s Frank’s world – we just live in it.” And as of Dec. 12, we’re also living in Sinatra’s Century as his family, friends and legions of fans celebrate the 100th anniversary of late singer’s birth.

“He wanted to live to be a hundred more than life,” Sinatra’s youngest daughter Tina Sinatra tells PEOPLE of her famous father, who was born on Dec. 12, 1915, and rose to become largely considered the greatest pop vocalist of the twentieth century, an Oscar-winning actor, a presidential confidant and one of the most larger-than-life entertainment figure of his or any era before his passing in 1998 at age 82.

“His ambition was to live as long as he could, as close to a hundred as he could. He thought that would be swell,” says Tina. During the past celebratory year – with significant exhibits of personal artifacts at the New York Public Library and Los Angeles’ Grammy Museum; a throng of new books, including the $1500 limited edition luxury volume Sinatra by his granddaughter Amanda Erlinger; all-star musical tribute galas at locales like the Hollywood Bowl, Lincoln Center, the Wynn resort in Las Vegas and more – the Sinatra family received amble evidence that Ol’ Blue Eyes’ spirit was still going strong a century after his birth.

“That we got him to a hundred, and that he is as significant to the music that he was singing 80 years ago, means a lot,” says Tina, who today oversees the creative product of her father’s six-decade career in show business. “It means a great deal because I think it signifies that he will be here in another hundred years. I don’t believe the music is going to disappear. And if the music lives, he will live with it in memory, in history. He will stay with it because of the music I’m not surprised that he is where he is at 100. ”

Hoboken, New Jersey-born Sinatra’s very birth was marked with struggle – he had to be pulled from his mother with forceps, which permanently marked his face, and have air breathed into him – and his many career and personal ups and downs (including an epic fall from grace early in his career, a tempestuous second marriage to actress Ava Gardner and an ill-fated third union to much-younger Mia Farrow) have become the stuff of Hollywood legend.

But through it all, “Dad loved life – he came in the hard way, but he was going to go out his way, I guess,” laughs Tina, remembering her father’s particular love of birthday celebrations – both his own and those of his family and friends.

Sinatra’s granddaughter Amanda Erlinger – the youngest of two daughters to Sinatra’s eldest, ’60s pop singer Nancy Sinatra – has often been overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection for her grandfather in the centennial year. “It’s really emotional,” says Erlinger. “Everywhere you go, you’re reminded of him in some way – and I’m even a generation removed, and I get emotional. I started tearing up when I was walking in on the streets outside the Grammy Museum, and I saw the banners lining the street, and I saw his face looking down and smiling. I was like, ‘This is amazing that this is happening.'”

“It’s unbelievable, his reach and the fact that we’re doing this almost 20 years after he passed away,” Erlinger admits. “He wouldn’t believe it. He wouldn’t. If I could talk to him, and I said that this was happening, and all of these tributes would go on, he would just be like, ‘No. Not possible.'”

But she says, humility aside, Sinatra would have been thrilled that his legacy remains in full flourish at the century mark: “He had an inkling that he really wanted that to happen, and it came true. That dream came true for him! I’m so happy for him. I’m so blessed to be in this family. But also, just that like, ‘That’s my grandpa.’ He’s Frank Sinatra, but he also was my grandfather. So yeah, it’s emotional, for sure, that connection. I know my mom feels it because she’s really present on the website and on the family forum, and she talks to so many people around the world. So it’s wonderful. We’re truly blessed.”

Celebrating in Starry Style

Tina Sinatra was especially delighted by the devotion and dedication shown by the many A-list artists who have performed tributes over the year. At Sinatra 100 – An All-Star Grammy Concert alone, which was held at Las Vegas’ Wynn Resort and Casino and aired on CBS on Dec. 6, the lineup a diverse array of performers including Lady Gaga, Adam Levine, Carrie Underwood, Alicia Keys, Tony Bennett, Sam Smith, Nick Jonas, Seth McFarlane, Katherine McPhee, Celine Dion, John Legend, Harry Connick, Jr., Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Juanes and Zac Brown.

“The ones that we were grateful to get could not have said yes faster,” says Tina. “And were so devoted to the notion of paying tribute and so excited to do it. And really studied for many, many weeks what songs they were either interested in singing. Not one of them was less than what they are in their own particular musical niche. They were just so committed to paying tribute to him, that everything else went by the wayside.”

“It was just wonderful, wonderful. It was satisfying, is what it was. And it was the perfect icing, if you will, to Dad’s birthday cake.”

Singer Michael Buble, one of the current caretakers of the classic American Songbook that Sinatra helped make famous, admits he was nervous to perform in front of his vocal idol’s family at the Grammy Museum gala. (The event marked the debut of an elaborate exhibit of Sinatra’s personal effects and memorabilia in October.)

“It s a very difficult thing to think about and sing songs that are obviously Frank Sinatra s, and in front of his family,” he admits. “You want to pay tribute, but not sing karaoke.”

To help honor Sinatra on his centennial, Buble teamed with Jack Daniels – Sinatra’s “gasoline” of preference and a brand he helped popularize beginning in the 1950s – for the whiskey maker’s Toastmakers campaign, raising a glass on Instagram. “I think it s good class paying tribute to Frank and what he s done for music,” says the singer. In turn, the company has released Jack Daniels’ Sinatra Century, a limited edition whiskey specially created for the 100th birthday, complete with unreleased music tracks from a live Las Vegas performance by Sinatra in 1966.

“The truth is I celebrate that man every day,” he says. “I really do. You know what, at some point in every day, I ll probably listen to a Frank, or have something surrounding me that has Frank written on it. So I celebrate in my own way every day. I don t know that I need a special occasion to celebrate a person that meant so much to me. His voice just was unlike anyone else’s. He was an inventor. He was no pretender.”

A Daughter’s Legacy

Tina’s 2002 memoir My Father’s Daughter, which chronicled the Sinatra family dynamics (Frank split from her mother, his teenage sweetheart Nancy Barbato, in 1951 when Tina was still a toddler) is back in print with a new introduction and afterword, in which she reveals she’s come to terms with the difficult feelings that followed her father’s passing.

“I wrote the book in 2000, and I wrote it from a different place. I needed to vent, and right or wrong, I did,” she says. “I had a lot of issues to deal with, and I found out that as time passed, once you adjust to the loss which takes you a long time, you begin to sense how final ‘final’ is.”

Yet in other ways her father is very much present. “It’s like, he’s in my life,” she says. “People don’t forget their parents when they die, if they knew them well. My parent feels like he’s with me as much as my mother – who will be 99 in March – is with me. I don’t feel separated from him and breached him from as I did when I lost him. And all the bad falls away, and all the productive good stuff helps you repair maybe what wasn’t completely healed when you separated.”

She also knows that a part of her father belongs to increasing generations of fans, who’ll be commemorating him in their own ways as well. “If they love his music, they know him, I think,” she says. “If they know his music, they rely on it to lift spirits or to celebrate or to entertain company or to fall asleep to his singing. If they have Frank’s music so interlaced in their own daily life and rely on him emotionally to work his magic, they know him very well. So they know that he had to be a man who was feeling and sensitive and tough and gentle and really valued living, even if it wasn’t always pleasant. Life was the gift.”

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