Barbara Sinatra, who was married to legendary singer Frank Sinatra for nearly 22 years, has died. She was 90.
Sinatra died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., according to John Thoresen, the director of the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center. “She died comfortably surrounded by family and friends at her home,” he said in a statement.
Known as “Lady Blue Eyes,” she married Frank in 1976. She was the last of his four wives, and they were married until his death in 1998.
Together they founded the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage in 1986, providing services and assistance to abused, neglected and at-risk children. The Frank Sinatra Celebrity Invitational Golf Tournament, which featured performances by Frank, raised money for the center.
According to her 2011 memoir, Lady Blue Eyes: My Life With Frank, she met Frank when she was asked to be a doubles partner with his then-wife, actress Ava Gardner. She was a neighbor of the couple in Rancho Mirage, where she lived with then-husband Zeppo Marx. The youngest of the five Marx Brothers, he had left the famous comedy act after appearing in 1933’s Duck Soup to be an engineer and theatrical agent.
She and Marx befriended many famous stars at the nearby Hillcrest Country Club, and they were friends with such Hollywood legends as George Burns, Jack Benny and Milton Berle. She also became close to Frank, and they began to spend time together without Marx’s knowledge.
After divorcing Marx in 1973, she married Frank three years later. In Lady Blue Eyes, she wrote: “The year I married Frank Sinatra was a very good year. It was 1976, but it had taken us five years of flirting and courting to finally say ‘I do.’ It probably took another year before I grew accustomed to the idea that I now carried his iconic name. At first, I’d almost whisper when booking a restaurant reservation or beauty parlor appointment. Even to say ‘Mrs. Sinatra’ out loud felt like bragging.”
Born Barbara Blakely in Bosworth, Mo., she moved to Long Beach, Calif., after World War II and began to model at age 18, attending the Robert Edward School of Professional Modeling. In 1948, she was the queen of the Belmont Shore pageant. She continued a career in modeling and later moved to New York with her first husband, Bob Oliver, an aspiring singer.
After being accepted at the Ford Modeling Agency and working for such magazines as Vogue, Barbara became pregnant and returned to Long Beach to start the Barbara Blakely School of Modeling.
After giving birth to her son, Robert, she divorced Oliver and became a showgirl in Las Vegas, where she met her second husband, Zeppo Marx. They married in 1959, and Marx helped take care of her son, whom Marx wanted to officially adopt. Oliver, however, would not allow it, so Robert unofficially took the “Marx” surname.
Despite his financial and paternal assistance, Barbara’s marriage to Marx was troubled, and she described him as jealous and possessive. “Unable to relinquish the swinging lifestyle of his fraternal youth, he also dated other women. I was bored and lonely by the time Mr. Sinatra aimed those eyes in my direction. The spark he ignited inside jerked me from my slumbers,” she wrote.
She married Frank, who had divorced actress Mia Farrow in 1968, at the Annenberg Estate in Rancho Mirage in 1976. “For a long time I had to pinch myself almost daily to believe that I, Barbara Ann Blakeley, the gangly kid in pigtails from the whistle-stop of Bosworth, Missouri, had somehow become the wife of Francis Albert Sinatra,” she wrote in Lady Blue Eyes. “Could I really be married to the singer whose voice I’d first heard at a drive-in when I was 15 years old?”
Sinatra continued to be actively involved with the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center, organizing fundraising events through 2016.
She is survived by her son and a granddaughter.