Barbara Sinatra has died. The fourth and final wife of singer Frank Sinatra died on Tuesday morning at her Rancho Mirage home after months of declining health. “She died comfortably surrounded by family and friends,” Children’s Center Director John Thoresen told The Desert Sun. She was 90.
Barbara, who wed Frank Sinatra in 1976, was affectionally referred to as “Lady Blue Eyes,” and their marriage lasted longer than any of the singer’s previous three marriages.
Here’s what you need to know about them:
1. Both Had Been Married Several Times Before They Met
Born Barbara Blakely in Missouri, Barbara moved to Long Beach with her mother as a teenager and enrolled at the Robert Edwards School of Professional Modeling. By 1948, she was dubbed Queen of the Belmont Shore pageant. It was during this time that she met Italian singer Robert Oliver, whom she promptly married. The newlyweds moved to New York, but Oliver struggled to find success, and Barbara’s pregnancy put her career at the Ford Modeling Agency on hold. By the 1950s, their marriage was on the rocks, and they divorced shortly after moving back to Long Beach.
Barbara eventually moved to Las Vegas, where she performed as a showgirl to support her son, Bobby, Jr. That’s where she met and fell in love with Zeppo Marx, the straight man of the Marx Brothers comedy act. They were married in 1959 and moved to Palm Springs. According to The Desert Sun, however, Zeppo’s jealously began to get the best of him when Barbara began showing attention to their neighbor, Old Blue Eyes himself: Frank Sinatra. Barbara and Zeppo divorced in 1973. They had no children.
Sinatra, notorious for his womanizing, already had three marriages under his belt by the 1970s, including Nancy Barbato, the mother of his three children, actress Ava Gardner, whom he remained close friends with, and actress Mia Farrow, who went on to marry Woody Allen.
2. Barbara Told Sinatra That If They Didn’t Get Married, She’d Leave Him
Barbara and Sinatra grew close while the former was still married to Zeppo Marx. She told The Desert Sun that the trio would often take trips to Las Vegas together as close friends. But things quickly heated up between her and the world famous crooner. “In the beginning, it was kind of hush-hush,” said longtime friend Nelda Linsk, “But she always said she was going to build a tunnel from her house to Frank’s house across the fairway.”
Sinatra’s mother, Dolly, was reportedly happy with their relationship. Barbara later said “I heard through the grapevine that she’d asked Frank, “Aren’t there enough whores around? Why do you have to work on your best friend’s wife? I think she was probably the only person Frank was afraid of his whole life.”
Despite this disapproval, Barbara and Sinatra dated openly for four years after her divorce. But Sinatra never proposed marriage.The Desert Sun says that in the spring of 1976, while they were in Lake Tahoe, Barbara said if he didn’t commit to marriage, she was leaving. Sinatra declined and Barbara flew home.
The crooner later tracked Barbara down in Las Vegas to right his wrong. “He decided to give it to me in champagne,” she told The Desert Sun. “He said, ‘Put it on,’ and I said, ‘No, you put it on,’ and I went like this (extending her fingers). I wanted to see if he’d put it on the right finger. And he did.” It wasn’t a real proposal, but Barbara said “it was the closest I was going to get.”
They were married in 1976.
3. They Founded the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center in 1986
The Sinatras founded the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center in 1986. According to the website’s about page, the center “provides individual, group and family therapy along with special programs that address issues associated with children suffering the affects of child abuse and neglect, and who are at risk to be abused.”
Barbara worked tirelessly to ensure that no children would ever be turned away due to their inability to pay, and organized countless fundraisers and charities to get things off the ground. Many of which, were aided by her husband. “The big charity giving by Barbara started when she was married to Frank,” said friend Gloria Greer, “It was Frank behind all that and Frank was probably the most generous person in the world.”
The Children’s Center currently has a $9 million endowment, according to their website, and a strong board to see that the center remains a long-lasting legacy to Barbara’s vision. As for carrying on in the aftermath of her death, Linsk told The Desert Sun: “We have succeeded without Frank, and we will succeed without Barbara, I’m sure. We have a great board and we’re all working very hard.”
4. Barbara Later Said that Sinatra Had a “Jekyll & Hyde’ Personality
While she and Sinatra remained married for 22 years, they were not immune to rough patches. In a 2011 op-ed for Daily Mail, Barbara wrote that during their time together, she realized “there was definitely a Jekyll and Hyde aspect to Frank’s character.” Her account includes late-night parties, and Las Vegas performances where Sinatra would yell at everyone, including his son Frank, Jr. who worked for him, prior to the show.
Sometimes, that manifested itself in a tantrum, but more often than not he just wanted to drink with his buddies and me — and expected us to stay up all night. A friend of Frank’s once said that one of the qualities that most endeared me to him was my stamina.
Barbara also admitted that they would break things off every now and again, but would always get back together. “He demanded drama,” she wrote, “It was just as well I found his Italian passion rather stimulating.”
We fell out over anything and everything — though never about other women. I didn’t own him; I had no claim on him to speak of, so I didn’t even go there.
In any event, Frank liked strong women. He never hit me, although he once raised his hands during a fight and said: ‘God, I want to punch you!’
‘OK,’ I replied defiantly, ‘give it your best shot.’
‘What would you do if I did?’ he challenged.
‘I’d leave and you’d never see me again.’
5. Barbara Inherited Sinatra’s $3.5 Million Estate After He Died in 1998
Sinatra died of a heart attack on May 14th, 1998. Barbara was by his side the entire time. She was also the main inheritor of his will, according to E! Online, as she was given $3.5 million in assets, as well as mansions in Beverly Hills and Malibu. Even more importantly, however, Barbara received the rights to Sinatra’s hallowed Trilogy recordings, most of his material possessions and control over his name and likeness.
Barbara’s son, Robert Oliver, received a $100,000 cash bequest from Sinatra, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Barbara wrote a memoir in 2011, titled Lady Blue Eyes, which her self-professed “love letter” to her late husband: “I would like people to know him as I knew him. He was full of love and warmth and understanding and loyalty. When he was on your side, it was like having a whole army.”