Sammy Davis Jr.

Samuel George Davis Jr. (December 8, 1925 – May 16, 1990) was an American singer, dancer, actor, comedian, film producer and television director.

Sammy Davis Jr.
Davis in 1972
Samuel George Davis Jr.

(1925-12-08)December 8, 1925
DiedMay 16, 1990(1990-05-16) (aged 64)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California, U.S.
  • Singer
  • dancer
  • actor
  • comedian
  • film producer
  • television director
Years active1928–1990[1]
  • Loray White
    (m. 1958; div. 1959)
  • (m. 1960; div. 1968)
  • (m. 1970)
Musical career
  • Vocals
  • piano

At age three, Davis began his career in vaudeville with his father Sammy Davis Sr. and the Will Mastin Trio, which toured nationally, and his film career began in 1933. After military service, Davis returned to the trio and became an overnight sensation following a nightclub performance at Ciro's (in West Hollywood) after the 1951 Academy Awards. With the trio, he became a recording artist. In 1954, at the age of 29, he lost his left eye in a car accident. Several years later, he converted to Judaism, finding commonalities between the oppression experienced by African-American and Jewish communities.[2]

He had a starring role on Broadway in Mr. Wonderful with Chita Rivera (1956). In 1960, he appeared in the Rat Pack film Ocean's 11. He returned to the stage in 1964 in a musical adaptation of Clifford Odets' Golden Boy opposite Paula Wayne. Davis was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance.The show featured the first interracial kiss on Broadway.[3] In 1966, he had his own TV variety show, titled The Sammy Davis Jr. Show. While Davis's career slowed in the late 1960s, his biggest hit, "The Candy Man", reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1972, and he became a star in Las Vegas, earning him the nickname "Mister Show Business".[4][5]

Davis's popularity helped break the race barrier of the segregated entertainment industry.[6] He did however have a complex relationship with the black community and drew criticism after publicly supporting President Richard Nixon in 1972. One day on a golf course with Jack Benny, he was asked what his handicap was. "Handicap?" he asked. "Talk about handicap. I'm a one-eyed Negro who's Jewish."[7][8] This was to become a signature comment, recounted in his autobiography and in many articles.[9]

After reuniting with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in 1987, Davis toured with them and Liza Minnelli internationally, before his death in 1990. He died in debt to the Internal Revenue Service,[10] and his estate was the subject of legal battles after the death of his wife.[11] Davis was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy Award for his television performances. He was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1987, and in 2001, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

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