Even before I hit my teens, my fantasies centred on hanging out with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. In my dreams, I was living in Las Vegas. And then, bang, I was actually there.
I was a middle-class, 19-year-old of Lebanese extraction and less than spectacular looks who’d had an unexpected Number One hit with my song Diana.
The year was 1959, when Vegas was just a few hotels surrounded by sand and sagebrush – and controlled by the Mob. But it truly was a teenager’s fantasies come true: hot chicks, champagne on ice, gold-plated pink Cadillacs, sharkskin suits.
Ruling over this adult magic kingdom was the Rat Pack – little gods in black tie and patent leather shoes. They didn’t talk like anyone else I knew, they didn’t behave like other people and they didn’t play by the rules.
The king of this playground was my idol Frank Sinatra, who’d been a big star since the Forties. He was 25 years older than me, yet he and the rest of the Rat Pack adopted me, calling me Kid and including me in their japes.
To a geeky kid from Canada, who’d been expected to take over his dad’s restaurant, it was like going to the college of cool. Every day, I had to pinch myself.
It’s no exaggeration to say Vegas revolved around Frank. Movie stars, politicians, business moguls and, of course, women were magnetically drawn to him.
After our shows, he’d lead Rat Pack drinking and gambling sessions until 4am or 5am, which wreaked havoc on our voices.
Then we’d go to the hotel’s health club, where we wore robes Frank had given us, with our nicknames emblazoned on them: Sammy Davis Jr was Smokey the Bear, Dean Martin was Dago and, of course, I was Kid.
In the steam room, we’d sit around talking for hours, naked as the day we were born. Suddenly, a couple of giggling showgirls – also stark naked – would tiptoe in or, occasionally, Frank would have ladies of the night brought in. Then he’d disappear to a little massage room to have sex with them.
He wasn’t the only one who did this, though I didn’t. We all knew what the wild and horny senator John F. Kennedy was up to when he came to Vegas. Even the comedian Bob Hope had a massage every day and women stashed all over the place.
Most of the time I knew Frank – our friendship would last decades – he had long-time girlfriends or wives, but he never seemed happy. He said once he didn’t understand women.
The truth is that he was just as happy going to bed with a hooker – or whoever his songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen had managed to find him that night – as he was with his partner.
Maybe there was one exception: the actress Angie Dickinson. Of all the women he’d known, he said, she was the best in bed. Dean Martin agreed.
Even Frank’s fourth and last marriage, to Barbara Marx, a former Vegas showgirl, didn’t seem to satisfy him for long. For one thing, his mother Dolly wasn’t thrilled with her new daughter-in-law and, as far as his children were concerned, she fell into the gold-digger category.
By the early Eighties, I realised the marriage was under strain. Sinatra’s lawyer Mickey Rudin told me one night that every time the couple had a fight, Frank would give Barbara a new piece of expensive jewellery.
He began to name his tours after the big jewellery houses: the Tiffany tour, Cartier tour, Van Cleef & Arpels tour.
Once, at a restaurant, Barbara was having trouble with the clasp of her new egg-shaped gold Gucci bag.
‘Can you give it a try?’ she asked Frank several times, but he ignored her. Eventually, he said ‘Give me the f***ing purse’, raised it over his head and slammed it on the table. Its contents exploded all over the restaurant.
Though there was a side to Frank that I adored, he could be a difficult man, blunt to the point of rudeness. He’d fly into a rage if your hair was unruly or your clothes were scruffy.
And he had strong dislikes, such as an irrational loathing of Barbra Streisand and the singer Johnny Mathis. When he hated something, you knew about it, even if it was just the smell of strong perfume – as a German girl discovered to her cost.
They had met at a bar in Spain soon after he broke up with his second wife, Ava Gardner, in 1957, but he’d been unable to get together with this girl because she was living with her mother. So, he invited her to Hawaii.
Everything was done in style: one of Frank’s guys took her shopping for luggage, jewellery and perfume, then flew her out to meet him.
On the day she was due to arrive, Frank was by the window of his suite, waiting like a little boy.
When she walked in and hugged him, his eyes lit up. Then he suddenly pulled back and started sniffing like a dog. The Sinatra nose had just caught a whiff of her perfume.
‘Get her the f*** out of here!’ he said – and that was that. The girl was off the island within hours.
For a guy who frequented hookers and hung out with gangsters, he could certainly get on his high horse about other people’s behaviour.