Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner had ‘a very intense relationship’ that ‘was bound to burn out,’ pal says

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For years, many believe that when it came to Frank Sinatra’s love life, Ava Gardner was the one who got away. But for ol’ blue eyes, the hot and heavy romance was bound to burn.

The claim was made by Tony Oppedisano, who served as a member of the late star’s management team. He also managed mutual friend Don Rickles. The award-winning producer recently wrote a memoir titled “Sinatra and Me: In the Wee Small Hours” about their decades-long friendship, which started when Oppedisano was just 21.

Sinatra met the actress in 1950 at a party. The singer was married to his childhood sweetheart and wife of 12 years, Nancy Sinatra Sr. The mother of three left Sinatra after his affair with Gardner became public. Weeks after the pair’s divorce became final in 1951, Sinatra married Gardner. Nancy went on to raise their three children: Nancy, Frank Jr. and Tina.


Frank Sinatra with his first wife, Nancy Sinatra Sr.

Frank Sinatra with his first wife, Nancy Sinatra Sr.
(Getty Images)

But the marriage was far from smooth-sailing. After his divorce from Nancy, Sinatra’s career took a nosedive. When he bought Gardner gifts, he would charge them to her account, the Chicago Tribune reported. According to the outlet, Gardner had a clause written into her contract saying her studio would find him work. She also begged a producer to have Sinatra test out for a role in 1953’s “From Here to Eternity.”

The couple loved hard, but they fought harder, even engaging in public brawls. The union, which initially rocked the press, lasted from 1951 until 1957. Gardner never remarried and she passed away in 1990 at age 67 from pneumonia.

“Frank told me that was a very intense relationship, a very tempestuous one,” Oppedisano told Fox News. “She was absolutely drop-dead beautiful. He said, ‘She could drink me under the table. As far as language, stuff came out of her mouth that could grow hair on the wall.’ He also said, ‘I should have known upfront that anything that burned that hot was bound to burn out. But while it was going on, I was having a ball.'”


Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner were married from 1951 until 1957.

Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner were married from 1951 until 1957.
(Photo credit should read AFP/AFP via Getty Images)

Oppedisano met the Hollywood sex symbol sometime in the mid-‘70s. And while the meeting was only 45 minutes, he said Gardner left a lasting impression.

“She was very, very classy,” he recalled. “She was dressed impeccably. She was absolutely gorgeous. When she walked into the room, all eyes were on her. She had a certain poise, but she was also quite the character. Frank was right about the language. He was right about the way she could drink you under the table. I met her once, but once in a lifetime was enough for me!”

Gardner, a farmer’s daughter who found fame in Hollywood, eventually moved to London after her divorce from Sinatra. In her lifetime, she tied the knot three times: first to Mickey Rooney from 1942 until 1943, followed by bandleader Artie Shaw from 1945 until 1946, and then Sinatra.

In 1982, Gardner told London’s Daily Express she would have happily traded her career for one lasting marriage.


For years, many speculated that Ava Gardner was The One for Frank Sinatra. However, even the singer claimed that the relationship was too hot to handle.

For years, many speculated that Ava Gardner was The One for Frank Sinatra. However, even the singer claimed that the relationship was too hot to handle.
(Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Image)

“One good man I could love and marry and cook for and make a home for, who would stick around for the rest of my life,” she said. “I never found him. The trouble was that I was a victim of image. Because I was promoted as a sort of siren and played all those sexy broads, people made the mistake of thinking I was like that off the screen.”

“They couldn’t have been more wrong,” she continued. “Although no one believes it, I am pathologically shy. I was a country girl and I still have a country girl’s rather simple, ordinary values. No one ever wanted to know the real me at all. They preferred the myths – the roaring lady who smashed champagne glasses and seduced bullfighters.”

Gardner starred in 60 films. In one of her last roles, she appeared on the CBS series “Knots Landing” in 1985.

Sinatra later married actress Mia Farrow and their union lasted from 1966 until 1968. The star said “I do” once more to Barbara Sinatra, a marriage that lasted from 1976 until his death in 1998 at age 82.


Frank Sinatra's pal Tony Oppedisano described the singer's ex-wife Ava Gardner as 'drop-dead beautiful.'

Frank Sinatra’s pal Tony Oppedisano described the singer’s ex-wife Ava Gardner as ‘drop-dead beautiful.’
(Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Oppedisano claimed Sinatra was “very frustrated” in the final weeks leading up to his death.

“His life had changed so drastically,” he said. “He was not accustomed to not being in the best of health. That bothered him. And then not being able to spend time out in public – that took a big chunk out of his world. He was at peace on stage performing. And in reflecting on his life, he realized, ‘This is what the rest of my life is going to be.’ He was in a melancholy place really.”

Oppedisano noted that even in the later years, Sinatra’s exes spoke fondly of the star. And it was easy to see why.

“He was incredibly personable,” said Oppedisano. “Very giving, very caring, very compassionate. The press painted him with that rough exterior, but for the most part, he was just a regular guy. I remember I had gotten a call that my dad was being taken to a hospital in New York. As you can imagine, I wasn’t in the most jovial mood. Frank was doing his best to cheer me up… I remember I went to the bathroom and when I came out, lo and behold, there’s Frank. He had emptied out a pack of unfiltered Camel cigarettes. He stuck like four cigarettes in each ear, three cigarettes in each nostril. And he had about 12 cigarettes across his lips. And he’s just staring at me like that.”


Frank Sinatra passed away in 1998 at age 82.

Frank Sinatra passed away in 1998 at age 82.
(Photo by Martin Mills/Getty Images   )

“So I started to laugh,” Oppedisano continued. “And then he started to talk, like, ‘What’s so funny?’ The cigarettes are now fully out of his mouth, falling all over his lap. Now I’m laughing even harder. Finally, when I was able to regain my composure, I looked at him and said, ‘You know, there’s a fine line between genius and insanity.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, but I made you laugh.’ And that’s just the kind of guy he was. He was like that with his fans, his friends and the women in his life.”

Oppedisano hopes his book will “pull back the curtain” on the life of an iconic singer who continues to make headlines today.

“I want people to know the Frank I knew, the Frank who was loved,” said Oppedisano. “There was just something about him.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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