US mourns, as family war begins over Sinatra millions

Francis Albert Sinatra, born Hoboken, New Jersey, 12 December 1912, died Los Angeles 14 May 1998
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The Independent Online
EVEN as all of America stopped to mourn the death of Frank Sinatra, widely considered to be the most important and beloved entertainer of the century, a battle appeared to be brewing between his widow and three children over his $200m (pounds 120m) estate.

Sinatra, aged 82, died of a heart attack on Thursday night, at the Cedars- Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after months of failing health. It is understood a private funeral will be held next week in Palm Springs, California, after a memorial service this weekend in Beverly Hills.

The entire United States indulged in an orgy of nostalgia on the airwaves for the man they called "Ol' Blue Eyes". The Empire State Building in New York is likely to be bathed in blue light and lights on The Strip in Las Vegas dimmed as a mark of respect.

Sinatra is said to have once told his children he wanted his death to be marked extravagantly. "I want fireworks lighting the sky, all the former presidents in attendance and I want Luciano Pavarotti singing `Ave Maria'".

While his fourth wife, Barbara, and her three Sinatra step-children - Frank Jr, Tina and Nancy - were together at his bedside when he died, there were fears last night that feuds over the inheritance that have flared in recent years would quickly reignite.

One source close to the family said last night: "There has been an awful lot of fighting over the past months and even in the last few days before his death I think it continued."

At stake is a business empire encompassing a fortune in record royalties, personal art collections and enterprises in property, music publishing and even a beer wholesaler, that is conservatively valued at $200m. Arguments may also resurface over control of the company he formed to license his likeness and name. Called Sheffield Enterprises, it is headed by the 49-year-old Tina.

Among the many recent clashes, one was sparked by Barbara's decision to allow the Korbel California champagne company to reproduce some of Sinatra's paintings on its bottles. There have also been "singing" porcelain souvenir plates (embedded with a computer chip carrying the singer's voice) and other products said to be of questionable taste.

The fiercest of the fights in the past, and potentially in the months ahead, centre on the control of Sinatra's recordings. While the children were given control by the singer of his Reprise Records catalogue, spanning 1960 to 1988, Barbara has recently headed efforts to reissue his earlier songs.

For those hoping that the grievances can be buried, they might note that Barbara was recently quoted as telling a friend at the height of the Korbel champagne row: "Why should I have any loyalty to Frank's ungrateful kids? If they want a fight they're going to get it."