Vic Damone: The time Frank Sinatra saved his life

Raechal Shewfelt
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

Singer Vic Damone, who died Sunday of respiratory illness at 89, attributed the style that brought him success to Frank Sinatra. He even told Newsweek in 1992 that he “tried to mimic” the “Chairman of the Board.”

But there was more to their bond. Damone believed that Sinatra — who died at 82 in 1998 — had once literally saved his life. In December 2015, Las Vegas Review-Journal gossip columnist Norm Clarke reported a story he’d been told by Vic’s daughter Victoria.

She told him that her father had a confrontation with a mobster when he was performing in Las Vegas in the late 1960s or ’70s. Vic, who was one of the owners of a local restaurant, “was approached by a man he didn’t know,” Victoria Damone said. “The man said my dad owed a large amount of money.”

Victoria recounted that the man identified himself as a bookie and “wouldn’t be dismissed.” Then Vic called Sinatra.

Victoria said Sinatra was performing in another city, but asked Sammy Davis Jr. to fill in for him, so he could come to Vegas to help out her father. Vic was “surprised to find Mr. Sinatra at the restaurant where dad was to meet the bookie,” she said.

Sinatra soon told Vic to pay up. As Clarke wrote: “The man demanding the money had given Sinatra a secret sign, she said. Sinatra recognized the sign and understood he couldn’t intervene, her father told her.”

Vic paid.

“It could have been quite dangerous if Mr. Sinatra wasn’t there,” she told the newspaper.

For his part, Sinatra was also quite complimentary of Vic.

“If I had one wish,” Sinatra once said, according to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, “It would be for Vic Damone’s tonsils. Vic has the best pipes in the business.”

The men were so close that Vic turned down the role of Johnny Fontane in 1972’s The Godfather out of respect for Sinatra, whom the singer with ties to the Mafia was supposedly based on.

“I discussed it with Frank,” Vic told his local newspaper, the Palm Beach Daily News, in a June 2009 interview. “And he didn’t tell me to turn it down. Everybody knew that Johnny Fontaine was young Frank Sinatra, and, of course, Frank had already seen the script. But he just told me to do what I thought was best. I told the producer that I had too many other commitments. But really, I thought it was disrespectful to Frank, although I never [said] that to a soul while Frank was alive.”

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