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Frank Sinatra Jr. and His Dad: A Portrait of Pop-Culture Royalty

In memory of Frank Sinatra, Jr., who has died at 72, LIFE recalls a 1965 portrait of a father gently fussing over a son almost lost in a notorious kidnapping

Frank Sinatra’s son, Frank Jr., enjoyed a long and successful career as an entertainer in his own right — no mean feat, considering the size of the shadow cast by his pop-culture titan of a dad. A singer and composer — and sometime actor — Frank Jr. released a number of records over the years, of his own work as well as beloved classics from the Great American Songbook, and performed before appreciative, sell-out crowds. By the time he died at 72 on March 16, 2016, he had lasted longer and, by all accounts, aged better than many other children of superstar parents.

But a terrifying ordeal visited upon Frank Sinatra Jr. and his family back on Dec. 8, 1963, is and likely always will be one of the very first things anyone mentions when discussing the younger Sinatra’s life. Namely, he was kidnapped, and for 48 hours, the lives of one of the most famous families in the world was turned upside down and filled with raw fear.

Frank Jr. was just 19 years old when he was snatched from Harrah’s Lake Tahoe casino in Nevada. His father paid a quarter-million-dollar ransom and his son was released, unharmed, two days later. The three kidnappers, meanwhile — Barry Keenan, Johnny Irwin, and Joe Amsler — were very quickly caught, convicted and imprisoned. (Keenan, the plot’s mastermind, served only four years of a 75-year sentence, as he was deemed insane at the time of the kidnapping. In fact, Keenan reportedly always planned to return the ransom money, and thought of the kidnapping not as a crime but as a heaven-ordained way to bring the Sinatra family closer together.)

Here, as the world remembers the life of Frank Sinatra, Jr., LIFE offers a portrait of The Voice and his son in 1965, a short two years after Frank Jr.’s kidnapping — a backstage portrait of a father gently fussing over a boy (now a young man) who at one time was lost to the world. At this point in the older Sinatra’s career, he was, as LIFE put it in a huge, 16-page profile of the man, “the finest living singer of popular songs, an astonishingly good actor, an ambitious director, a shrewd businessman . . .” In other words, he was Sinatra. The only Sinatra.

[See more classic LIFE photos of Sinatra in 1965.]

But in this quiet, intimate picture by John Dominis, one can imagine that for this instant, all of the fame, money, influence and sheer power that Sinatra accrued over the years might have been utterly forgotten. Made irrelevant. One can imagine that here is a dad and a son, sharing a moment. Nothing more, nothing less. And we’re reminded of how those are the moments — when we’re not really paying attention — that come back to us years later, and remind us of what we had, and what mattered.

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