Recently, Open Source RVA posted a story by David Brumfield on entertainers that were injured in Richmond over the years. Sort of a recap of mayhem that befell star performers that graced our city.
One of the items was Frank Sinatra collapsing on stage at the Mosque on March 6th, 1994 and being attended by several Richmond doctors including me, and then taken to MCV (now VCU) Hospitals. This brought back some memories and chuckles and demands a blog recapping the events of that evening.
I had the chance to see Elvis while in school in Cleveland and did not go because he was a bit out of touch by then, but when he died I lamented on missing that chance to see a legend. When I heard that Frank Sinatra was coming to Richmond to perform at the Mosque (now the Altria) I remembered old Elvis and bought 4 tickets.
I forgot that the concert was on the same day as my semiannual Advanced Cardiac Life Support recertification and I was also on call for facial trauma at the local hospitals. Despite these two obligations, I managed to finish my certification in time and took a friend and another couple (well-known Richmond photographer Bob Jones and his wife Beth) to the Mosque.
I had good seats in the first row of the right balcony right next to the exit door. Sinatra came on stage and was backed by his son Frank Jr.’s orchestra. Frank was almost 80 then and although he was a little slow he cranked out many of his greatest hits. He had a giant prompter in front of him with the words to the songs streaming across like a giant Karaoke machine and occasionally seemed to forget some lyrics, but after all, he was “old blue eyes and the chairman of the board”, so he was allowed some slack out of respect.
He sat on a plain barstool and had another stool next to him with a clear glass with brown liquid which he sipped through the performance.
About 20 minutes into his act I noticed that he was a little wobbly on his stool and I jokingly said to by friends “hey, if Frank falls off of that stool and hits his face, I am on facial trauma call for the local emergency rooms and lucky for him, I just recertified in ACLS today” No sooner did those joking words leave my lips, when BANG, Frank collapsed like a rag doll and smacked his head on the big monitor that was in front of him. It was a pretty big noise and we all looked at each other for a second when his son asked “if there was a doctor in the house?” There was a policeman or guard standing at the exit that was one seat away from my chair and when I raised my hand he literally whisked my down some steps and there we were center stage with the real Frank Sinatra lying at my feet. I was the first and only person on the stage except for his people. Time seemed to warp into slow motion and I looked out at the sold out crowd and there was gasping followed by absolute silence. It was a creepy and eerie feeling.
I got down on my knees and Frank was unresponsive. His toupee was crooked and his pot belly was hanging out of his shirt that became untucked. I lifted his arm and remember that he had a large pinky ring on his little finger. I lifted his chin to see if he was breathing and felt for a pulse. I remember that there were some very large men that could have been called Sal or Guido that were next to me, obviously Frank’s bodyguards.
Although this seemed like an eternity, it was probably only 60 seconds and then the conversation from the crowed began to increase and you could hear people crying. By now a large crowd with several local doctors began to gather at the front of the stage and several jumped up on the stage. From stage right came the paramedics and the late well-known cardiologist Tommy Thompson. He and I helped the paramedics set up the EKG and Frank began to arouse and mumble. I also noticed that there was a table stage left with a bottle of whiskey, ice and glasses.
I think by now the Mosque closed the red velvet stage curtains as concert goers wandered aimlessly contemplating his fate. The EKG was normal and Frank regained his facilities and he or someone with him wanted the crowd to see that he was alright. They now transferred him to wheel chair and the curtains opened and Franked waved goodbye to the fine people of Richmond. At his point, someone took a picture. This picture (shown below) made it to people magazine in the 3-21-94 issue. My bald head can be seen behind Frank under the yellow arrow.
Frank was then transferred to a yellow stretcher to be transported to the MCV emergency room. I think Tommy Thompson was in contact with them telling them that Frank Sinatra was on his way. His EKG continued to be normal and I still have part of his actual EKG. I tore off a piece and gave it to Tommy Thompson as a souvenir of that evening. Guess I will put it on Ebay someday.
By this point, the paramedics told Frank and his handlers that he was going to be taken to MCV and he pretty much wigged out! He said, with many expletives, that he was not going anywhere but home. He said something like “I want to get out of this dump” or something similar. He was pissed and most probably “pissed” in the British sense of the word, i.e. intoxicated.
At this point there was a circus as they were loading him into the ambulance and someone was contacting the hospital administrator at MCV to alert them of the whirlwind that was en route.
I went back to find my friends and by now people were leaving and a lot of folks came up to me asking what happened.
As the ambulance drove away the event was over and the story was that Frank did not want to go to MCV and they had to really persuade him to do a head CT scan. Although they wanted him to stay overnight he refused and the story goes that he was transported to the airport with some MCV people in vehicle and he was mad as a hornet and the car pulled over and his people asked them to exit the vehicle. Not quite sure how they got back.
I did not get home till about 11:30 and then got a call from Channel 12 and they came over after midnight for an interview and I did an interview and other local stations followed the next day. My phone rang all night with media outlets as far as Australia wanting an interview on the events of the night. Pretty soon, I quit answering the phone as I had surgery in the morning.
The actual People Magazine article is still online but does not have the original pictures.
Dr. J under yellow arrow
Warning:Do not view this video if you are going to laugh at my then, hair
Guess that was my 15 minutes of fame.
Joe Niamtu, III DMD
Cosmetic Facial Surgery