Samuel George "Sammy" Davis Jr. (December 8, 1925 – May 16, 1990) was an American entertainer. Primarily a dancer and singer, he was also an actor of stage and screen, comedian, musician, and impressionist, noted for his impersonations of actors, musicians and other celebrities. At the age of three, Davis began his career in vaudeville with his father and Will Mastin as the Will Mastin Trio, which toured nationally. After military service, Davis returned to the trio. Davis 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, he lost his left eye in a car accident, and several years later, he converted to Judaism.
Davis's film career began as a child in 1933. In 1960, he appeared in the Rat Pack film, Ocean's 11. After a starring role on Broadway in 1956's Mr Wonderful, he returned to the stage in 1964's Golden Boy. In 1966 he had his own TV variety show, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show. Davis's career slowed in the late 1960s, but he had a hit record with "The Candy Man" in 1972 and became a star in Las Vegas, earning him the nickname "Mister Show Business".
As an African-American during the pre-Civil Rights era, Davis was a victim of racism throughout his life and was a large financial supporter of the Civil Rights movement. Davis had a complex relationship with the black community, and drew criticism after physically embracing 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 Jew." This was to become a signature comment, recounted in his autobiography, and in countless articles.
After reuniting with Sinatra and Dean Martin in 1987, Davis toured with them and Liza Minnelli internationally, before he died of throat cancer in 1990. He died in debt to the Internal Revenue Service, and his estate was the subject of legal battles.
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 the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1987, and in 2001, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Samuel George Davis Jr. was born on December 8, 1925, in the Harlem section of Manhattan in New York City, as an only child, to Sammy Davis Sr., an African-American entertainer, and Elvera Sanchez, a tap dancer of Afro-Cuban descent. During his lifetime, Davis stated that his mother was Puerto Rican and born in San Juan. However, in the 2003 biography In Black and White, author Wil Haygood writes that Davis's mother was born in New York City to parents of Cuban, Afro-Cuban, and African-American descent, and that Davis claimed he was Puerto Rican because he feared anti-Cuban backlash would hurt his record sales.
Davis's parents were vaudeville dancers. As an infant, he was reared by his paternal grandmother. When he was three years old, his parents separated. His father, not wanting to lose custody of his son, took him on tour.
Will Mastin Trio: (L–R) Sammy Davis Sr., Sammy Davis Jr., and Will Mastin
Davis learned to dance from his father and his "uncle" Will Mastin, who led the dance troupe his father worked for. Davis joined the act as a child and they became the Will Mastin Trio. Retrieved 2013-05-12. Throughout his career, Davis included the Will Mastin Trio in his billing. Mastin and his father shielded him from racism. Snubs were explained as jealousy, for instance. When Davis served in the United States Army during World War II, however, he was confronted by strong racial prejudice. He later said, "Overnight the world looked different. It wasn't one color any more. I could see the protection I'd gotten all my life from my father and Will. I appreciated their loving hope that I'd never need to know about prejudice and hate, but they were wrong. It was as if I'd walked through a swinging door for eighteen years, a door which they had always secretly held open." At age 7 Davis played the title role in the film Rufus Jones for President, in which he sang and danced with Ethel Waters Davis lived for several years in Boston's South End, and reminisced years later about "hoofing and singing" at Izzy Ort's Bar & Grille.
Davis nearly died in an automobile accident on November 19, 1954, in San Bernardino, California, as he was making a return trip from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. In 1953, he had struck up a friendship with comedian and host Eddie Cantor, who gave him a mezuzah. Instead of putting it by his door, as a traditional blessing, Davis would wear it around his neck as a good luck charm. The only time he forgot it was the night of the accident. The accident occurred at a fork in U.S. Route 66 at Cajon Boulevard and Kendall Drive (34.2072°N 117.3855°W). Davis lost his left eye to the bullet-shaped horn button (a standard feature in 1954 and 1955 Cadillacs) as a result. His friend, actor Jeff Chandler, said he would give one of his own eyes if it would keep Davis from total blindness. Davis wore an eye patch for at least six months following the accident. He was featured with the patch on the cover of his debut album and appeared on What's My Line? wearing the patch (March 13, 1955). Later, he was fitted for a glass eye, which he wore for the rest of his life.
While in San Bernardino's Community Hospital, Cantor told him about the similarities between the Jewish and black cultures. Prompted by this conversation, Davis—who was born to a Catholic mother and Protestant father—began studying the history of Jews. He formally converted to Judaism several years later, in 1961.One passage from his readings (from the book A History of The Jews by Abram L. Sachar), describing the endurance of the Jewish people, intrigued him in particular: "The Jews would not die. Three millennia of prophetic teaching had given them an unwavering spirit of resignation and had created in them a will to live which no disaster could crush."The accident marked a turning point in Davis's career, taking him from a well-known entertainer to a national celebrity.
n August of 1989, doctors found a tumour in Davis' throat. Davis died in Beverly Hills, California, on May 16, 1990 at age 64, of complications from throat cancer. Earlier, when he was told that surgery (laryngectomy) offered him the best chance of survival, Davis replied he would rather keep his voice than have a part of his throat removed; he subsequently was treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. However, a few weeks prior to his death, his entire larynx was removed during surgery. He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Garden of Honor, Lot 5774, Space 1 in Glendale, California, next to his father and Will Mastin.
On May 18, 1990, two days after Davis's death, the neon lights of the Las Vegas Strip were darkened for ten minutes as a tribute to him. He was survived by his wife, his daughter, his sons, his sister, his mother, his grandmother, and two grandchildren.