Nancy Sinatra, born Nancy Barbato, was the first wife of musical legend Frank Sinatra and mother of his three children. She passed away on Friday night at the age of 101. Her daughter, Nancy Jr., announced her death in a tweet on Friday night, writing, “My mother passed away peacefully tonight at the age of 101. She was a blessing and the light of my life. Godspeed, Momma. Thank you for everything.”
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Nancy and Frank Sinatra Were Teenage Sweethearts Who Met At a Holiday Camp in New Jersey
Nancy Barbuto met Frank Sinatra at a holiday resort in Long Branch, New Jersey in 1934. She was 17 years old. The pair married at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic church in Jersey City, New Jersey, on Feb. 4, 1939, just before Sinatra’s singing career really took off. They set up house together in a small home in Jersey City. Their older children, Nancy Junior and Frank Junior, were born in that home.
Later, the couple moved to Los Angeles to pursue Frank’s singing career.
Nancy divorced Frank in the 1950s, after she was humiliated by his barely-hidden affair with actress Ava Gardner. Frank married Ava soon after his divorce from Nancy, but that marriage also ended in divorce.
2. In The Early Years of Their Marriage, Nancy Worked As A Secretary While Frank Tried to Jumpstart His Singing Career
When Nancy and Frank were first married, Nancy got a job as a secretary while Frank worked as a singing waiter at The Rustic Cabin, a roadhouse restaurant near Alpine, New Jersey. The couple lived in a three room, third-floor walk-up on Garfield Avenue in Jersey City. Their rent was just 42 dollars a month.
Nancy was supportive of Frank’s dream of becoming a musician. In 1939, she asked for (and received) a 15 dollar advance on her salary so that Frank could buy publicity photos. That fall, Frank joined a big band fronted by trumpet player Harry James. Nancy joined them when they went on tour. She later described those days as the best days of her life.
3. Nancy Knew That Frank Was a Womanizer Even Before She Married Him
Frank and Nancy got together in 1934. But in 1938, Frank had an affair with a young singer named Antoinette Della Penta.
It all came out when two constables from Hackensack came to the Rustic Cabin, where Sinatra worked as a singing waiter, to arrest the young singer. He was taken to the county courthouse and charged with breach of promise — in other words, he was charged with breaking his promise to marry a young singer. The claim read, “On the second and ninth days of November, 1938, under the promise of marriage, Frank Sinatra had a sexual relationship with a single female of good repute named Antoinette Della Penta.”
The charge was later dropped when it turned out that Antoinette Della Penta was already married.
Of course, Nancy found out about the affair. She asked Frank whether this was his first affair, and he replied, “No, but it’s the last.” Nancy married him anyway.
4. Nancy and Frank’s Three Children Had Two Successful Musical Careers, and One Kidnapping, Between Them
Nancy and Frank had three children: Nancy Jr, Frank Jr, and Christina. Nancy Junior went on to have her own musical career, acheiving fame with hits like These Boots Were Made for Walking and Friday’s Child.
Frank Jr also had a successful musical career, although his songs have not stood the test of time to the extent that his sister’s songs have.
Frank, who died of a heart attack in 2016, was also once the victim of a bizarre kidnapping plot. In 1963, when Frank Jr was 19 years old, three men abducted the teenager from a hotel room in Lake Tahoe. The three kidnappers — Barry Keenan, Joe Amsler, and John Irwin — held Frank Jr for three days before they got their ransom of $245,000 and let him go. The kidnappers were soon found and arrested.
Keenan and Amsler both attended University High School in Los Angeles — the same high school that Nancy Sinatra Jr attended.
5. Nancy Never Remarried After Divorcing Frank
Nancy was reportedly devastated after her divorce. Nancy Junior has said that as a child, she sometimes heard her mother sobbing in her bedroom. Nancy never remarried, although she was photographed with Hollywood producer Ross Hunter.
Instead, she lived out the rest of her life at her Beverly Hills home, caring for her children and working on charity.
She reportedly stayed close to Frank, and the singer would visit her sometimes to request one of her home-cooked Italian meals. Frank felt very comfortable with Nancy, and was always free to wander in and out of her home, where he was so relaxed that he would even fall asleep on the couch sometimes.
Last year, the Chicago Tribune published the recipe for Nancy’s famous linguine with clam sauce, which Frank apparently loved. Here it is.