Skip to comments.Entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. Died On This Day In 1990
Posted on 05/17/2013 8:39:22 PM PDT by nickcarraway
Nicknamed Mister Show Business, Sammy Davis Jr. (pictured throughout) occupies a significant portion of African-American experience in entertainment. Although the singer, dancer, and Rat Pack member was seen by many as an assimilating uncle Tom, Davis lived a complex life full of triumphs, failures, and everything in between before his passing in 1990 on this day. NewsOne takes a look back on the life of Sammy Davis Jr.
Born Samuel George Davis on December 8, 1925, in Harlem, parents Samuel Sr. and his Cuban-American Mother Elvera Sanchez were both entertainers. Davis began his career early, performing in a vaudeville troop with his father at the age of 3. In 1933, Davis began his film career, starring in the satirical and often-criticized musical short Rufus Jones for President. Watch Part 1 of Rufus Jones for President here:
Davis career took a turn during the inception of World War II, when he served in the United States Army. Largely protected from racism by his father and uncle, Will Mastin, Davis experienced prejudice in an extreme fashion for the first time during his time in service. The Army was aware of Davis prodigious singing and dancing abilities, so they assigned him to an integrated entertainment unit.
It was under those circumstances that Davis learned to cope with racism.
My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the one way I might hope to affect a mans thinking, wrote Davis in one of his autobiographies. After being discharged from the service, Davis went full speed with his career, recording several albums, touring with his family and landing on Broadway in 1956 with the play Mr. Wonderful.
In this file photo, actors, from left to right, Peter Lawford, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Frank Sinatra are shown in the 1960 movie, Oceans Eleven.
Three years later, Davis joined the Rat Pack, a legendary crew of entertainers and friends that included Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. The Rat Pack made splashes in Hollywood and abroad, most notably with the 1960 film Oceans 11 (pictured above) and 1964s Robin and the Seven Hoods. The troupe also performed stage shows together in various venues, catapulting their fame to high heights.
Davis supported the Civil Rights Movement in a variety of ways, although he was often criticized for hobnobbing with White Hollywood while seemingly snubbing other Black entertainers in favor of his Rat Pack friends. There were also rumblings going around that Davis fronted money for the Italian Mob all while becoming an international celebrity. In 1972, Davis support of then-Republican President Richard Nixon was seen as a slight to the Black community.
Davis married Altovise Gore (pictured below) in 1970, and the ceremony was presided over by Rev. Jesse Jackson. Although the pair remained married until his passing, it was a troubled union sparked by Davis personal demons of drug addiction, poor spending habits, and a propensity to focus only on his career and not his familys needs.
Considering that Davis remained somewhat popular throughout the 1970s, he never regained the star power and faded in to poverty, depression, and basic obscurity.
Davis succumbed to throat cancer in Beverly Hills; this after a delayed surgical procedure was performed to save his life. Davis was resistant to the surgery, as he didnt want to lose part of his legendary voice. After his death, the Las Vegas Strip, in the city where he often performed for thousands, darkened its lights in tribute to Davis. He is buried next to his father and uncle in Glendale, Calif.
Davis was a polarizing figure indeed.
Although he seemed to take on mannerisms employed by White stars of his day, he couldnt disguise the fact he was still a Black man. Even his conversion to Judaism was perceived as a ploy to shed his African-American roots, but that only raised intrigue in the man that much more. No matter what has been publicly said about Davis, there is no denying that Sammy Davis, Jr. deserves respect for his talents despite the murkiness of his private life and politics.
Watch Davis perform The Candy Man here:
Sammy at age 6. But it looks a little like Obama explaining his role in the Benghazi incident.
Wow. You can recognize him.
Jerry Lewis Telethon was never the same. Sammy was a great man.
I remember it well; I took he day off work to watch his funeral on television.
The court’s in session now,
Here come the judge, here come the judge...
I saw his performance in person one time. He was mesmerizing.
Sammy Davis What Kind of Fool Am I
I know my uncle thought he was the best performer he had seen - better than Elvis.
He was a performer in the tradition of vaudeville, where you perfected your art by performing relentlessly onstage day after day, year after year.
There is one story about him where he arrived at a gig alone because his band travelled separately. They got lost and never showed up. His manager decided to go out to the audience and cancel the show, but Sammy said, "If I can't entertain this crowd with just me and a comb harmonica I am not half the entertainer I think I am." He fashioned a comb harmonica with a comb and tissue paper, went out onstage, and performed an improvised act for two hours. The audience loved it and didn't even notice that the show was supposed to have a had a band behind him. How many entertainers today would even try that if their lip sync machines broke down?
Great entertainer and great human being. One of the old good ones. He’s missed.
Funny how media writes his conversion to Judaism was seen to “get rid” of his black roots, but show me one story where the media writes about a black that converts to islam and how that is abandoning his/her black roots. Africans and African Americans are hardly native muslims. They were all converts, it’s not a native african religion.
My mother’s cousin was a bandleader who knew him.
Cu Cu ca Choo, babe.
When I heard of his death I pulled over off the road and just thought. Talent in so many ways. I wish I could have met him and Dean.
He was married to Mai Britt first, before Altovise. They had a child or maybe even two.
Wow. They left out so much it practically wasn’t worth reading. That was the skimmiest skim-over I have ever read.
He didn’t even KNOW Altovese. He was forced to marry her after he picked her out of a chorus line because if he didn’t, they were going to kill him.
God bless the Candyman.
Obama stole the title of his autobiography, Yes I Can. I think his glass eye story is in it. Without Sammy, there would’ve been no Michael Jackson. A true pioneer.
Your uncle was right. He was a full-service performer. Singing, dancing, stories...
1954: Sammy Davis Jr. was driving his Cadillac down Route 66, headed from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to record the soundtrack for the film Six Bridges to Cross. At 8 a.m., near San Bernardino, Calif., a 72-year-old woman backed her car out of a driveway into Davis’ path. The impact of the crash drove his face into the pointed center of the steering column, breaking his nose and effectively destroying his left eye. Davis, 28, was rushed to San Bernardino Community Hospital, where he was informed that he would lose his damaged eye and have it replaced with a plastic one.