Frankly Admiring

updated 12/04/1995 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/04/1995 01:00AM

SOME PARTY: IN ONE CORNER Johnny Depp served drinks to Bruce Springsteen. In another, Raquel Welch greeted Bob Dylan with a kiss. (Ah, cultural dissonance!) Somewhere over there, Roseanne chatted amiably with socialite Barbara Davis, wife of oil-and-entertainment mogul Marvin. And at the center of it all sat the birthday boy himself, Hoboken's own Francis Albert Sinatra, on the cusp of 80, accepting best wishes from celebs of every age and wattage. "Who else could have brought together such a diverse range of talent?" said NewsRadio's Phil Hartman, who spent eight years lampooning the legend on Saturday Night Live. "It was extraordinary."

The Nov. 19th festivities—three hours of tributes and roasting at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium, which raised $500,000 for AIDS Project Los Angeles and the Barbara Sinatra Children's Center for abused children—were taped by ABC. The highlights will air on Dec. 14, two days after Sinatra's birthday. Amid the crowd of 5,500, the evening's honoree took in the proceedings from a stageside table as comedian Don Rickles, a pal of 35 years, poked fun at his reputed underworld connections with a mimed machine-gun volley aimed "to make you feel at home." Tony Bennett, who calls Sinatra his best friend, crooned a tune and countered with the claim that "he has that image of a tough guy, but he's a very misunderstood man." Not by one attendee. "I pattern myself after Frank," said Roseanne. "He beats people up, I beat people up. He fires people, I fire people." True to form, the famously cantankerous singer was shown in a video homage feeding a parrot and remarking, "You're an ugly son of a bitch, you know that?"

A crop of current pop stars concentrated on Sinatra's music: Paula Abdul added a disco touch to "Luck Be a Lady"; the rap trio Salt-N-Pepa performed their hit "Whatta Man" (with Frank-friendly lyrics rewritten for the occasion); and Hootie & the Blowfish lead singer Darius Rucker delivered a suavely cool, finger-snapping version of "The Lady Is a Tramp," which earned him a thumbs-up from the Chairman of the Board. "I sang it the way I did because I have so much respect for him," said Rucker. "I wanted to know what Frank felt like, to be in Frank's world."

The Italian-style dinner party that followed the show featured mushroom tortellini and a Sinatra soundtrack, but. only 15 minutes of the frail-looking Sinatra, who was wearing a hearing aid. No matter. Admirers half his age and less—Tony Danza, Mike Myers and Christian Slater among them—lingered late, perhaps hoping to soak up what Patrick Swayze called "the cool of Frank Sinatra. There's a charm and danger to the guy." Much of the former was in evidence during the show's finale, when the all-star throng coaxed a flushed Sinatra onstage for an unrehearsed yet moving "New York, New York." Chiming in on the chorus, Sinatra more than lived up to the introductory words of fellow New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen. "Hail, brother," said Springsteen. "You sang out our soul. Happy Birthday."

LISA RUSSELL
CAROLYN RAMSAY and ANNE-MARIE OTEY in Los Angeles

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