Most people think about go-go boots and the swinging ’60s when they hear the name Nancy Sinatra. The singer who created the hits These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ and the 1967 James Bond theme, You Only Live Twice, brought her own legendary status to the Sinatra name.
Sure, she got some help from her dad, but Nancy enjoyed a successful career in her own right. Apparently, it wasn’t always easy for her to have such a famous last name. “It certainly opened doors,” Nancy said once, “but it closed a lot more.” After producing 22 Top 10 singles between 1966 and 1972, she escaped from the limelight and started a family. But that didn’t stop her from reminiscing about (and dishing out the dirt on) her past.
This is the life of Nancy Sinatra.
Believe it or not, Nancy Sinatra is now 81. She’s widowed, lives alone and admits that she feels depressed “about everything,” according to The Irish Times. Thanks to the pandemic, she’s been isolated since March 2020. After her second husband, Hugh Lambert, died from cancer in 1985, she and their two daughters moved on with their lives. But Nancy tends to look back on her life, sometimes with a heavy heart.
Most of the major players in her first and second acts are no longer alive. Of her immediate family, her sister Tina Sinatra is the only one still around. Nancy was Frank’s firstborn with his first wife, Nancy Barbato, in Jersey City in 1940.
Nancy wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Her father wasn’t anybody yet when she was born. He only rose to the top as a solo artist in 1943. As Nancy put it, “once he hit, he really hit.” She told The Guardian about the days in her childhood when she would notice people sneaking around their home to take a peek at her famous dad.
In fact, it caused Nancy’s mother to worry her kids might get kidnapped. And sure enough, about 20 years later, in 1963, Nancy’s younger brother, who was 18 at the time, Frank Jr., was indeed kidnapped. He was taken from a Lake Tahoe casino and released two days later when Frank Sr. paid a $250,000 ransom.
As her dad’s career soared, the family moved to California, specifically to Toluca Lake in Los Angeles. It was then and there that Nancy got the performance bug. It would be surprising if she hadn’t, considering her house was always full of A-listers. “Frequent guests included comedians Jack Benny, George Burns, and Gracie Allen,” she recalled.
Nancy started studying music when she was six years old. She belonged to a YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) in high school. They would do annual song banquets, and Nancy would lead 50 or so girls in her club. Since she studied classical piano, she was able to write harmonies for every girl. “We won every year,” she stated proudly.
Nancy was 17 when she made her TV debut on The Frank Sinatra Show because the producers thought it would be “a cute idea.” During one episode in 1960, Nancy was tasked with welcoming Elvis Presley back home from his military service in Germany. The 20-year-old had already met Elvis at the Fort Dix military base, thanks to her dad.
And, for the record, she wasn’t intimidated. “Elvis was lovely… What a sweet, polite, wonderful man,” She said. Nancy later co-starred with Elvis in the 1968 action film Speedway, which was when they became close. But not in that way – they were good friends.
“He treated me as a good friend,” Nancy said. On the night he and his wife Priscilla had their daughter, Lisa Marie, in February 1968, Elvis called Nancy to tell her the good news. Elvis fans, you might like to hear this little anecdote. Nancy remembers what he told her that night on the phone.
“He said he felt so grateful that she was born into a loving, secure life. He mentioned how he felt pain for the babies born that same night in poverty.” In Nancy’s eyes, Elvis felt a familiarity with her because she understood the difference between fame and the human being under it.
There were rumors that Elvis and Nancy were more than just friends, especially during the time they starred in Speedway together. Nancy finally addressed the gossip in 1995 on Geraldo Rivera, divulging that they enjoyed a “friendly” flirtation, but nothing ever progressed past it.
The rumors had something to do with their time on set, when Elvis had a tandem bike built for them. He would ask Nancy to go for a ride with him, and within seconds, all these Elvis fans would swarm them. Many years later, Nancy told Conan O’Brien that Elvis was “a great kisser,” so “friendly.”
Whereas some kids of famous parents decide to avoid Hollywood like the plague, Nancy was attracted to it. She joked as she recalled the way her life turned out: “I wasn’t about to go and do medicine!” Her life was on a vertical path to stardom, but one thing did manage to derail her, and that was her first marriage.
Nancy’s first husband was pop star Tommy Sands, to whom she was married from 1960 to 1965. “I was old-fashioned. I married as a virgin,” she openly admitted. She also declared that they were both “way too young.” But she only realized that much later. She was, after all, only 20 when they married.
For those five years of marriage, she put her career on hold, and she blames herself for it. Looking back on that early marriage, she said that if she had had a sexual life prior, she wouldn’t have married. “In those days you got married to have sex, sadly.”
She wanted to continue her classical education in college but got married “like a fool” to Sands, whom she referred to as a “now-forgotten teen idol.” Once their marriage started falling apart, Frank Sinatra encouraged her to revisit her passion for music. She was then signed to his label, Reprise.
Sinatra told his daughter that she could stay on the label as long as she paid her own way. So, if she released a record, she would need to sell enough for it to pay for itself. At the time, however, she didn’t really find her authentic voice yet. “I was singing in keys that were too high” – something she called “Nancy Nice Lady.”
Her first Reprise records were only successful in Japan and Europe; she was worried her potential would never be fulfilled in the United States. Being the “daughter of” can go either way. In her case, she had to work harder to prove herself as well as not shame her family name.
Even as a teenager, she felt that she had to be extra careful about her behavior. If she and her friends got into trouble, the newspapers would single her out, obviously. And so, she had to make an effort to keep her name out of the newspapers.
The earliest form of “trouble” for Nancy was that regrettable marriage of hers. Nonetheless, her divorce from Sands became her opening to a new voice. But she didn’t figure it out on her own. This is when a man named Lee Hazlewood comes into the picture.
Many people think that it was Sinatra who invited songwriter Hazlewood to meet Nancy, but it was her producer, Jimmy Bowen, who connected the two. Hazlewood and Nancy had an immediate spark. “It was Lee’s funkiness, I think,” Nancy remembered; that was “impressive” to her.
Hazlewood has been portrayed as a Svengali figure – the man who allegedly told her to “sing more like a 14-year-old who screwed truck drivers.” But according to Nancy, Hazlewood never uttered those words around her. What he did tell her was: “You’ve been married and divorced; you should sing like that.” Hazlewood started calling Nancy “Nasty Jones.”
It’s too easy to assume that it was papa Frank who taught his daughter how to blossom into a singer, but the credit really goes to Hazlewood. He fine-tuned her vocals during the ‘60s. Nancy acknowledges what he did for her, and she admits that she wouldn’t have been the singer she became if it weren’t for him.
“He taught me to sing lower and to sing tough.” Hazlewood worked with her to bring her pitch down about two keys, preparing her voice to create hits like These Boots Are Made for Walkin’. When the time came for Nancy’s record label to pair her up with someone for a duet album, she demanded that Hazlewood be the guy.
The album was Nancy & Lee, which many say was their finest collaboration. In the beginning, Hazlewood was the main songwriter, producing hits like Summer Wine, Some Velvet Morning and Jackson. Nancy & Lee Again was released in 1972, at a time when Nancy was post-divorce and free to be the woman she wanted to be.
She was exploring without compromising her privacy. She and Hazlewood’s recording sessions were “very sexy,” she recalled. There was a strong and constant chemistry between the two. Nancy claims that they never “consummated” their feelings, which only added to the sensuality of the recordings.
The sexual tension was palpable, and it resulted in great music. Not only did her voice mature, but Nancy also did a head-to-toe makeover. She went from brunette to blonde and embraced the new era of miniskirts and high-heeled boots. It just so happened that Nancy came of age during the rise of feminism.
“People thought that I was doing things because of women’s lib. I wasn’t. It was freedom of expression,” she stated. Up until that point, she explained, she was a girl. Now, she was a full-on woman, and she loved it.
The truth is they would have gone on to record more records together, but he turned their fruitful relationship sour.
Hazlewood abandoned her mid-album when he hopped on a plane to Sweden in 1970. He simply left her without warning in the middle of their success. Over three decades later, in 2004, the pair reconvened on their third album. And Nancy confessed that she found it difficult to forgive him.
It didn’t help that Hazlewood never even explained his leaving, which really hurt her. On their final tour in the mid- ‘00s, when they were in a dressing room together, Hazlewood turned to her and told her he was sick. Nancy asked him if he knew what was wrong with him. “I have cancer,” he told her. He died not long after, in 2007.
One of Nancy Sinatra’s biggest hits was her 1967 duet with her father called Somethin’ Stupid. It came as a big success for both Sinatras as it was during Frank’s comeback. To this day, the song remains the only father-daughter duet to hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
Still, it left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. Listeners were feeling a bit, well, disturbed. “Some people call that the Incest Song,” Nancy told The Guardian in 2008. The truth is that the song is romantic. So why would the father-daughter duo choose something so questionable?
According to Stereogum, Somethin’ Stupid was first written by Carson Parks, who recorded the track with his wife, Gaile Foote. The song then found its way to Lee Hazlewood, who then told Frank, “I love it, and if you don’t sing it with Nancy, I will.” And so, Frank booked a studio and got Nancy in to record with him.
But what it meant was the Sinatras weren’t following their own advice. “Just stay away from what I do,” Frank once told his daughter at the beginning of her music career. “You’ll be up for comparisons, and it’ll be ridiculous.”
These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, her 1966 smash hit, coincided with the escalation of the Vietnam War. Her popularity grew that year as the number of American troops rose to 400,000. With her bleached blonde hair, go-go boots and cat-eye makeup, Nancy was a global pop-culture icon.
According to The Guardian, she was the “most popular pinup for the GIs in Vietnam.” She went to Vietnam and into the heart of the war zone to boost morale for the troops. She stayed there for three weeks, making an impression wherever she went.
(More on the story behind the song later).
Nancy remarried in 1970 to dancer-choreographer Hugh Lambert, and the two remained together until his death in 1985. It was then that Nancy left music-making to raise their daughters, Angela (AJ) and Amanda.
AJ remembers her mom taking over “like a champ” from that point on, but she also remembers being angry with her. Nancy wrote in her book Frank Sinatra: An American Legend that she didn’t let her daughters visit their dad in the hospital when he was dying, thinking it would be “too much information for them to process.” (The anger is understandable, AJ.)
The mid-‘90s was a new era for Nancy; she evolved from the go-go boot femme fatale to a Playboy model in 1995. Despite being 54 and having been out of the limelight for a couple of decades, she chose to make a comeback in the form of a Playboy pictorial.
Why did she do it? Her words were: “to churn things up a little bit.” She then explained to Jon Stewart that she was “scared to death” of the shoot. But she explained that with age, she gained the courage to pose for the magazine.
Her family was actually supportive of the racy move, too. When she told her dad about the idea, he simply told her to “double” the amount that Hugh Hefner was willing to pay her, and it’s because he thought their family name was worth more. And it was.
While doing her rounds on the talk-show circuit, she said her dad was proud of the photos. Nancy told Jay Leno that her daughters also gave their approval. Her profile in the May 1995 issue was part of her promotion of her album One More Time. That year, Nancy met another one of her mentors…
1995 was the year she met The Smiths frontman, Morrissey, for the first time after asking her to sign some records for him. Nancy confessed that she was drawn to him because he reminded her of her father. “There are people who live for Morrissey, just like they lived for my dad.”
She also considered their onstage mannerisms to be similar – so much so that it was “spooky.” In 2004, Morrissey wrote a song for Nancy and asked her to sing it so they could release it as a single. Let Me Kiss You was released that same year. Like Hazlewood, Morrissey was a type of mentor to her, minus the controlling side.
The Buggles’s 1981 video clip for Video Killed the Radio Star is not the first-ever music video on MTV. It was actually Nancy Sinatra’s 1967 television special, Movin’ With Nancy, which featured Dean Martin, Lee Hazlewood, Sammy Davis Jr., and Frank Sinatra.
The hour-long special “was the first of its kind,” and it didn’t just pioneer the music video; it also included one of the first interracial kisses on TV — between Sammy Davis, Jr. and Nancy Sinatra. Contrary to online reports calling a publicity stunt, the kiss was “unplanned and spontaneous.”
Her 2004 comeback was an unexpected one because it was a completely new genre for the former crooner. Suddenly, Nancy Sinatra was making indie rock? The name Nasty Jones didn’t stick around for long, but Nancy managed to attract some of rock’s finest for her comeback, including Morrissey, Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp), Jon Spencer, and Bono.
The album was considered a success, and as it turns out, the idea came from Nancy’s own daughter, AJ. She kept saying, “Mom, you’re making the wrong kind of music.” Thanks to her daughter, Nancy learned to tap into a whole different age group.
Nancy’s 1966 tune Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) was originally sung by Cher, who released it that same year. Cher’s original version was a big hit – Nancy’s? Not so much. But thanks to filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, her luck changed.
Tarantino used her cover as the theme song for his 2003 film, Kill Bill: Volume 1. The director told The Los Angeles Times that his idea for using Nancy’s song in his movie was in his head six years before he made the film, which is when he first came up with Kill Bill. Nancy said she’s forever grateful: “That was a real gift that Quentin gave me.”
To many people, including Nancy’s own peers, she’ll always be “Frank [Sinatra’s] daughter.” She revealed to Pop Matters that she was regularly “sloughed off as an airhead.” But airhead she is not. As she aged, so did her voice and in the best way possible – like fine wine.
The Baltimore Sun wrote that her voice became “refined,” and it might be because Nancy kept up with her vocal training throughout the years. In fact, she vocalizes every day. She joked about what her obituary is going to read when she dies: “Frank’s daughter died with her boots on!’ Ha.”
Nancy never fully grieved the loss of her father, and since he’s one of the most photographed people whose music is heard everywhere, she feels “constantly bombarded,” as if somebody’s putting “their fingers in the wound,” she described. She couldn’t hear his music for 10 years after he died.
Nancy Sr., her mother (who died at age 101), recalled how when Nancy was a young girl, she would cry when she heard her dad’s voice on the radio. She cried because he wasn’t there – he was coming from a box instead. After her parents’ divorce, her dad didn’t live in the house, but he was always a car ride away.
Of the many other women in her father’s life, the only one Nancy really bonded with was Sinatra’s third wife, Mia Farrow (they were married from 1966 to 1968). Post-divorce, Farrow and Nancy stayed close friends.
There were once rumors that Farrow’s son with Woody Allen might actually have been fathered by Sinatra. Nancy refers to that as “Mia’s little joke” – something that took off on social media. In general, Nancy isn’t bothered by all the controversies that surround her father. “It’s part of American history,” she stated, “it’s fabulous.”
“You put on your boots
And I’ll put on mine
And we’ll sell a million records
Any old time”
– Lee Hazlewood
As the story goes, Lee Hazlewood and arranger Billy Strange went to the Sinatra family home, into the living room, and went through a selection of tunes they thought Nancy might want to record. As soon as she heard the lick of These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, she tagged it as a winner. As did Sinatra, who, after Hazlewood and Strange left, remarked, “The song about the boots is best.”
The song was initially conceived of coming from the male point of view. But at the time, 25-year-old Nancy was freshly divorced and felt its message would be a lot less “harsh and abusive” if it were sung by a “little girl.”
Hazlewood agreed, but he got sound engineer Eddie Brackett to beef up her vocals with some reverb. Biographer James Kaplan noted in his book, Sinatra: The Chairman, that Hazlewood took direction, which is where the famous line about 14-year-old girls was first heard. He told Brackett to strive for the sound of “a 14-year-old girl in love with a 40-year-old man.”
When Sinatra failed to receive his meaning, he shucked all pretense of delicacy. Nancy’s 1985 biography of her father, Frank Sinatra, My Father, mentioned this moment in the studio sessions. She wrote about hearing Hazlewood’s voice through the talk-back switch telling her to stop acting like a virgin – to do one “for the truck drivers.”
Whether he said it or not, the magic happened in that studio and the result was perfect. These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ has been covered by Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Billy Ray Cyrus and even Megadeth.
For the 1967 Bond film, You Only Live Twice, Nancy sang the theme song, but it was only because her father passed on the opportunity. Nancy was reportedly very nervous while recording it, and at first wanted to leave the studio.
There were times when she claimed to “sound like Minnie Mouse.” It took 25 different takes to make a final product. Despite not enjoying the recording sessions, the song made a real impact. NPR, for one, ranks Nancy’s spin on the Bond theme song as the best of all 20 of them.
Nancy’s net worth is an estimated $50 million, which covers her career as an actress, singer, model and writer. But she also makes money from her company Nancy’s Bootique, where she sells items like T-shirts, key chains, and pins, etc. Nancy also looks after her father’s online shop, where other merchandise and signed items are sold.
Then there’s her inheritance from daddy’s fortune. Frank Sinatra’s net worth was estimated at $200 million when he died in 1988. Nancy and her siblings, Tina and Frank Jr., each received $200,000 each. That’s it. They also received interest in the Beverly Hills Office building and the rights to many of the songs in their father’s music catalogue.
AJ Lambert is releasing her debut album at 44, after spending a long time in a bender of drugs and alcohol and under the shadow of her family’s legend. Lambert likes to sing her grandfather’s songs but doesn’t want to ride on his coattails.
She participated in indie bands during her 20s and 30s, including a group called Sleepington, Looker, Here We Go Magic and the punk band the Homosexuals – but tucked away in the rhythm section rather than out front. “I was a wild kid, drinking and drugging, and I loved it,” Lambert declared.
Her singing only became a serious endeavor in 2015, when she and a pianist started doing covers of her favorite indie songs. In 2016 her uncle, Frank Sinatra Jr., died, which left a hole. Lambert explained that her family asked her to do a tribute show to Sinatra, covering all the hits there ever were.
But Lambert was cynical at first – she thought it would be ridiculous for a “41-year-old woman, at that time, singing Love and Marriage and My Way.” She wasn’t comfortable with it. Instead, she chose to sing her grandfather’s album shows, including In the Wee Small Hours and Only the Lonely.
When her mom posed naked for Playboy at age 54, AJ was “miserable about it.” in fact, she even made a documentary film about it because she “couldn’t process it.” Making the film was her way of saying, ‘I’m going to be okay with this for now; it’s the only way.’
In other words, Sinatra’s granddaughter did it “her way.” When asked how it is to be Sinatra’s granddaughter, she finds it peculiar that her “granddad” was everyone else’s almost mythical idol. “It’s almost like they’re two different people for me,” she reasoned.
Amanda is Nancy’s younger daughter, born a year after AJ. When asked how her childhood was, Amanda described it as a “rainbow.” She’s also proud to announce that she and her sister were the first college graduates in the family.
Amanda is an artist and photographer, and as it turns out, her granddad was an art enthusiast. He helped her with techniques, like cleaning her paintbrushes and taking care of her supplies. Frank enjoyed painting, too, in his off time.
Amanda is notoriously secretive – not much is known about her personal life, unlike her sister. For instance, her Instagram profile is private and all her bios online lead to her website. What we do know is that she took on her husband Michael Erlinger’s last name. She met Michael when she was only 19 years old.
In an interview, Amanda gushed about their relationship. She described him as the best part of her life. The two have children and seem to be living their best lives.