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Sammy Davis Jr.

Sammy Davis Jr.

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Also Known As: Died: May 16, 1990
Born: December 8, 1925 Cause of Death: throat cancer
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: actor, singer, vaudevillian, recording artist, dancer, impressionist, boxing manager

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

geants Three" (1962) and the gangster fable, "Robin and the Seven Hoods" (1964). An active supporter of the eraâ¿¿s Civil Rights movement, Davis participated in the historic 1963 March on Washington at which Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Decades later, the beloved entertainerâ¿¿s efforts would earn him an induction to NAACPâ¿¿s Hall of Fame.Back on Broadway, Davis picked up a Tony nomination for his powerfully dramatic performance in the 1964 musical version of Clifford Odets' 1930s Group Theater hit "Golden Boy." Adapting his own play, Odets tailored the character to Davis' talents and persona, adding updated socially relevant themes to the morality tale about a musician-turned-boxer who is corrupted by the good life. The following year, Davis published the first of his three autobiographies, Yes, I Can, an exceptionally candid memoir of his life up to that point. Capitalizing on the success of "Golden Boy," Davis appeared again on screen as a talented, yet self-destructive jazz trumpeter in the drama "A Man Called Adam" (1966). Two years later, he starred in and executive-produced the less-impressive "Salt and Pepper" (1968), a silly crime-comedy,...

geants Three" (1962) and the gangster fable, "Robin and the Seven Hoods" (1964). An active supporter of the eraâ¿¿s Civil Rights movement, Davis participated in the historic 1963 March on Washington at which Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Decades later, the beloved entertainerâ¿¿s efforts would earn him an induction to NAACPâ¿¿s Hall of Fame.

Back on Broadway, Davis picked up a Tony nomination for his powerfully dramatic performance in the 1964 musical version of Clifford Odets' 1930s Group Theater hit "Golden Boy." Adapting his own play, Odets tailored the character to Davis' talents and persona, adding updated socially relevant themes to the morality tale about a musician-turned-boxer who is corrupted by the good life. The following year, Davis published the first of his three autobiographies, Yes, I Can, an exceptionally candid memoir of his life up to that point. Capitalizing on the success of "Golden Boy," Davis appeared again on screen as a talented, yet self-destructive jazz trumpeter in the drama "A Man Called Adam" (1966). Two years later, he starred in and executive-produced the less-impressive "Salt and Pepper" (1968), a silly crime-comedy, featuring Davis and Peter Lawford as a pair of swinging London nightclub owners embroiled in a deadly plot to overthrow the British government. With the ascension of rock-n-roll and the massive popularity of acts like The Beatles and Rolling Stones, conventional wisdom held that Davisâ¿¿ career as a recording artist was on the wane. Once again, the performer defied expectations when he enjoyed substantial radio play for his rendition of the rousing anthem, "Iâ¿¿ve Gotta Be Me" in 1968. Little did anyone suspect, his biggest hit was yet to come.

After a rumored affair with performer Lola Falana â¿¿ with whom he had appeared in both "Golden Boy" and "A Man Called Adam" â¿¿ led to his divorce from May Britt two years earlier, Davis married for the third and final time to chorus line dancer, Altovise Gore in 1970. Originally written for the film "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" (1971), Davis landed his only No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with a cover of "The Candy Man," in 1972. In spite of the wealth of material recorded by Davis earlier in his career â¿¿ "What Kind of Fool Am I" and "Mr. Bojangles" among them â¿¿ for many, this song would become the one most closely identified with the singer. Davis made a bit of television history with his memorable 1972 appearance as himself on the groundbreaking sitcom, "All in the Family" (CBS, 1971-79), capped off by the hilarious image of Davis planting a kiss on the cheek of the stunned bigot Archie Bunker (Carroll Oâ¿¿Connor).

For his entire life, Davis had been a social liberal and voted Democrat. Initially as infatuated by then-presidential nominee John F. Kennedy as his pal Sinatra was, Davis also held high hopes for what JFK might accomplish in the Civil Rights movement. However, when he was pulled from performing at Kennedyâ¿¿s 1961 inaugural ceremony â¿¿ organized by Sinatra â¿¿ due to concerns that his mixed marriage to Britt might incur the wrath of white Southerners, it left Davis feeling disappointed and betrayed. Nearly a decade later, and to the amazement of many of his friends and peers, Davis became an avid supporter of Richard M. Nixon during the 1972 presidential campaign, based on Nixonâ¿¿s planned efforts to address the racial divide in America. So close was his relationship to Nixon that in 1973, Davis was even invited to spend the night at the White House. Years later, however, a once again disillusioned Davis would publicly admit his regret over aligning himself with the disgraced former president, who he believed had failed to live up to promises made on the furthering of the Civil Rights Movement.

Davis returned to the stage once again in a 1978 revival of the Anthony Newley-Leslie Bricusse musical "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off," from which his hit song "What Kind of Fool Am I?" had originated. By the 1980s, Davis â¿¿ who not only smoked and drank to excess, but also battled a serious cocaine addiction for much of his life â¿¿ was increasingly hampered by a host of physical problems. Nonetheless, his immense talent and insatiable need to entertain remained undimmed, making him one of the last of the major variety performers still working. He appeared in a cameo with his old Rat Pack pal Dean Martin in Burt Reynoldsâ¿¿ cross-country road race comedy "The Cannonball Run" (1981). A few years later, they were joined by Olâ¿¿ Blue Eyes himself for the sequel "Cannonball Run II" (1984). Determined to carry on, despite his aging bodyâ¿¿s growing protestations, Davis underwent a painful reconstructive hip surgery in 1985, which allowed him to continue dancing, albeit to a lesser degree than he had once enjoyed. He was among the honorees recognized for their lifetime of contributions to the performing arts at the 1987 Kennedy Center Honors â¿¿ an honor he admitted took a bit of the sting away from JFKâ¿¿s snub some 15 years earlier.

In 1988, Davis joined his Rat Pack cohorts Sinatra and Martin for a highly-publicized concert tour. Although the performances were dimmed by the advanced ages of the trio, fans flocked for a chance to see the icons share a stage. After an ailing Martin was forced to bow out, Liza Minnelli stepped in to finish out the world tour. And though he was reluctant to admit it at the time, Davisâ¿¿ own health problems were just as severe, if not worse, than Martinâ¿¿s. Davis delivered his final feature film performance as Little Mo, an aging hoofer looking to mount one last show with the help of a talented ex-con (Gregory Hines) in the drama "Tap" (1989). Early the following year, Hines paid a particularly touching tribute to the inspirational entertainer on the special, "Sammy Davis, Jr.â¿¿s 60th Anniversary Celebration" (ABC, 1990). Having earlier refused an operation that could save his life at the cost of his precious voice, Davis passed away from complications due to throat cancer on May, 16, 1990 at the age of 64. Two days later, the lights on the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed for 10 minutes in tribute to the fallen entertainment icon.

After decades of reckless spending, Davis was in massive debt by the time of his death. In a sad epitaph, his widow, Altovise, was hounded by the Internal Revenue Service up until the time of her own passing, years later. More fitting with his legacy was a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, posthumously given to Davis in 2001. His reputation would only grow in the years following his passing. Loving impersonations of Sammy were done by a bevy of comedians and actors, with Billy Crystal⿿s spot-on homage being among the most endearing. Style being cyclical, there was a renewed appreciation for the swinging brand of cool personified by Davis and his fellow Rat Packers in the 1960s, resulting in a continuous flow of new music releases, album re-releases and TV biopics like "The Rat Pack" (HBO, 1998), featuring Don Cheadle delivering a splendid interpretation of the complex Davis. Both as an entertainer and a public figure, Davis served as an inspiration for a multitude of contemporary talent ⿿ most notably "The King of Pop," Michael Jackson. More than a decade after his death, Davis remained a fascinating and iconic figure, frequently re-examined in exhaustively researched books like In Black & White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr. and the riveting exposé, Deconstructing Sammy.

By Bryce Colemanme of sophisticated cool throughout that era, enjoying the run of the Vegas Strip and even rubbing elbows with the politically powerful Kennedy dynasty, thanks to Lawfordâ¿¿s marriage to President JFKâ¿¿s sister, Patricia Kennedy. On screen, Davis and various incarnations of the Rat Pack appeared in a string of light-hearted romps beginning with the heist-comedy, "Ocean's Eleven" (1960), followed by the wacky Western, "Ser

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Tap (1989) Little Mo
2.
 Moon Over Parador (1988) Himself
3.
4.
 That'S Dancing! (1985) Narration
5.
 Cannonball Run II (1984) Fenderbaum
6.
 Heidi's Song (1982) Voice Of Head Ratte
7.
 Cannonball Run, The (1981) Fenderbaum
9.
 Sammy Stops the World (1978) Littlechap
10.
 Poor Devil (1973) Sammy
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1927:
First became a professional entertainer at age 2 in parents' act
:
Joined "adopted" uncle Will Mastin's all-black family act of seven men and seven women before he was four (was sometimes passed off as a 44-year-old midget billed as 'Silent Sam the Dancing Midget' to bypass child labor laws); act was later reduced in size during the Depression and consisted of Davis, his father and "uncle" and was retitled The Will Mastin Trio
1933:
First film appearance in Vitaphone short, "Rufus Jones For President" opposite Ethel Waters
1938:
Performed in vaudeville with the Will Mastin Trio
:
Served with US Army Special Services in one of the first integrated barracks; had his nose broken twice in fights with white soldiers; produced camp shows, some of which he wrote and directed
:
Rejoined the retitled Will Mastin Trio starring Sammy Davis, Jr; act opened for Frank Sinatra in 1945
1946:
Recorded "The Way You Look Tonight"; named METRONOME magazine's "Most Outstanding New Personality"
1950:
Launched solo career at Ciro's nightclub in Hollywood when he opened for Janis Paige on Oscar night
1954:
Lost left eye as result of a car accident while driving from a Las Vegas club date to Hollywood; converted to Judaism during convalescence
1955:
Feature film acting debut in "The Benny Goodman Story"
1956:
Broadway acting debut in "Mr. Wonderful"
1960:
First appeared with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra at the Sands Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada
1960:
Made London cabaret debut
1961:
London stage debut in "An Evening with Sammy Davis Jr"
:
Was boxing manager for fighter Sonny Liston briefly in the 1960s
1964:
Starred on Broadway in musical, "Golden Boy"
1965:
Published autobiography, "Yes I Can"
1966:
Starred in own TV series, "The Sammy Davis, Jr Show"
:
Hosted syndicated TV series, "Sammy and Company"
1978:
Appeared in Broadway revival of "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off"
1983:
Stopped drinking after being hospitalized for liver and kidney dysfunction
1983:
Appeared with Bill Cobsy in "Two Friends Sammy and Cos" at Gershwin Theatre in NYC
:
Merchandized his own brand of food items (barbecue sauce, chili and mustard) in the 1980s
1985:
Underwent hip surgery
1988:
Received an articial hip
1988:
Toured with former Rat Pack member Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli (who replaced Dean Martin who dropped out due to ill health) in reunion concert
1989:
Played a veteran hoofer in last film, "Tap"
:
Fought eight month battle against throat cancer
1990:
Owed $5.2 million to the IRS at time of death because beginning in 1972, the IRS started disallowing Davis' tax shelters
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

"There are only two things that count in show business; know when to get on and when to get off. Try to walk out with a little dignity." --Sammy Davis, Jr. (quoted in People)

"I didn't like what I had created, and what I had become, and I had to face that. It was more like the Billy Crystal imitation. A certain amount of theatricality is wonderful. That's what they pay you for. And I definitely have never been the boy next door. But I went too far. You can go too far over the edge." --Sammy Davis Jr. discussing his decision to stop drinking in 1983 (quoted in The New York Times, May 30, 1989).

He was inducted into the NAACP Hall of Fame.

He served as co-chairman to the NAACP membership drive in the Los Angeles Chapter.

He was vice president of the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas Nevada.

Davis was appointed member of the National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity in 1971.

The Variety Club of St. Louis renamed the children's wing of its hospital the Sammy Davis, Jr. Wing.

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Kim Novak. Actor.
wife:
Loray White. Dancer. Married in 1958; divorced in 1959.
wife:
May Britt. Actor. Married on November 13, 1961; divorced in 1968; mother of three of his children.
wife:
Altovise Gore. Former show girl. Married from May 11, 1970 until Davis' death; born c. 1949; was a dancer in Davis' nightclub act; adopted son Manny with Davis in 1989.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

grandmother:
Rosa Davis. Raised Sammy Davis Jr until age three while parents toured.
grandmother:
Louisa Sanchez. Maternal grandmother; died in October 1996 at the age of 112.
father:
Sammy Davis Sr. Vaudevillian, dancer. Born c. 1901 in Wilmington North Carolina; died May 21, 1988 in Beverly Hills, California of natural causes; joined Will Mastin Trio after WWI.
mother:
Elvera Davis. Chorus girl, tap dancer. Puerto Rican; lead chorus dancer with Will Mastin's Holiday in Dixieland troupe; left family when Sammy Davis Jr was three; died on September 2, 2000 at age 95.
sister:
Ramona James. Born c. 1927.
sister:
Suzette Davis.
son:
Mark Davis. Video store owner. Born c. 1960; adopted by Davis and May Britt; co-owner of Lake Tahoe video store with brother and May Britt.
daughter:
Tracey Garner. TV commericials producer. Born in 1961; mother, May Britt; working on film of father's 1965 autobiography, "Yes, I Can"; married to Guy Garner; has one son Sammy, born c. 1989.
son:
Jeff Davis. Video store owner. Born in 1963; adopted by Davis and May Britt; co-owner of Lake Tahoe video store with brother and May Britt.
son:
Manny Davis. Born c. 1978; adopted by Davis and Altovise Davis in 1989.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Yes I Can"
"Why Me?"
"Sammy Davis Jr., My Father"
"Rat Pack Confidential: Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, Joey and the Last Great Showbiz Party" Doubleday
"The Sammy Davis Jr. Reader" Farrar, Straus & Giroux
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Contributions

JStafford ( 2006-03-27 )

Source: Movie Star Homes: The Famous to the Forgotten (Santa Monica Press) by Judy Artunian and Mike Oldham

The Beverly Hills mansion at 1151 Summitt Drive was the final residence of entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. The 10,900-square-foot mansion included a separate building which functioned as his gourmet kitchen.
(Source) Movie Star Homes: The Famous to the Forgotten (Santa Monica Press) by Judy Artunian and Mike Oldham

JStafford ( 2006-03-29 )

Source: Movie Star Homes: The Famous to the Forgotten (Santa Monica Press) by Judy Artunian and Mike Oldham

The Beverly Hills mansion at 1151 Summitt Drive was the final residence of entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. The 10,900-square-foot mansion included a separate building which functioned as his gourmet kitchen. (Source) Movie Star Homes: The Famous to the Forgotten (Santa Monica Press) by Judy Artunian and Mike Oldham

JStafford ( 2006-03-29 )

Source: Movie Star Homes: The Famous to the Forgotten (Santa Monica Press) by Judy Artunian and Mike Oldham

The Beverly Hills mansion at 1151 Summitt Drive was the final residence of entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. The 10,900-square-foot mansion included a separate building which functioned as his gourmet kitchen. (Source) Movie Star Homes: The Famous to the Forgotten (Santa Monica Press) by Judy Artunian and Mike Oldham

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