Born into a large Italian-American family from Jersey City, Nancy Rose Barbato was one of eight children from a devout Catholic family. After graduating from high school, Barbato met her first and only love Frank in 1934, while at the beach on a family holiday.
At the time she was 17 and he was 19. Their friends would later say it was a match made in Hoboken, yet even before they wed Frank was showing signs of the unfaithfulness that would go on to characterise their marriage.
In November 1938 while dating Nancy, Frank was arrested for seducing a girl who he had promised to marry. When it became clear he had no intention of going through with it, the girl flew into a furious rage and attacked Nancy outside a restaurant.
The charges were later dropped and he promised Nancy that he would not look at another woman again, with the pair marrying in 1939. But in the years before Frank earned his fame and fortune as Ol’ Blue Eyes, life was hard for the working-class couple. Often penniless, Nancy worked all hours as a secretary earning $25 a week to keep them afloat while Frank was out singing.
At home she would play the doting wife, cooking, cleaning and responding to the rising star’s fan mail. She made the bow ties Sinatra wore during his performances.
As stardom beckoned, Frank became increasingly absent from the Sinatra family home, leaving Nancy to give birth alone, first in 1940 to Nancy Jr, and in 1944 to Frank Jr. A year later they moved to Hollywood, with Nancy naively hoping this would put a stop to her husband’s misdeeds.
But as the months went by the couple grew further apart as his highly publicised flings with starlets such as Marilyn Maxwell and Lana Turner made headlines.
Their third child Tina was born in 1948 but by this time the marriage was on the rocks and on Valentine’s Day in 1950, Nancy was left heartbroken when Frank finally left her for the actress Ava Gardner.
Originally refusing him a divorce, Nancy conceded in 1951 and the pair legally separated on the grounds of his “mental cruelty”.
In the following years, Nancy remained staunchly private about their relationship, never publicly condemning his treatment of her.
Frank, who married a further three times, continued to visit his ex-wife in secret, confiding in her during late-night telephone conversations and she would even cook him his favourite Italian meals. Indeed, it is said the pair saw more of one another after the divorce than during their entire marriage.
Nancy Sinatra Sr died at home and is survived by her daughters.