Sammy Davis Jr.: The Multifaceted Entertainer

Samuel George "Sammy" Davis Jr. (December 8, 1925 - May 16, 1990) was an American-Jewish singer, dancer, actor, and comedian. He gained fame as a member of the entertainment trio known as the "Rat Pack," alongside Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Additionally, he appeared in films like "Ocean's Eleven" (1960) and earned the nickname "Mister Show Business" after successful performances in Las Vegas.

Davis was nominated for Golden Globe and Emmy Awards, and in 2001, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the world of entertainment.

Early Life

Davis was born in Harlem, New York City, to a Protestant African-American father, Sammy Davis Sr., and a Cuban-African Catholic mother, Elvera Sanchez. Both of his parents were involved in show business. In his early years, he was raised by his paternal grandmother while his parents were separated. At the age of three, when his parents divorced and his father did not want to lose custody of him, he took Davis on tour.

As a child, Davis learned to dance from his father, Sammy Davis Sr., and his uncle, Will Mastin, who led the dance troupe that his father was part of. Davis joined the act as a young child, and the trio became known as "Will Mastin Trio." Throughout his long career, Davis frequently mentioned the influence of the Will Mastin Trio on his life.

Both Mastin and Davis's father shielded him from the racism they encountered, explaining it to him as "troublesome." However, when he was drafted into the United States Army during World War II, Davis had to confront racism and deeply entrenched prejudices. "My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the only way I might hope to affect a man's thinking," he once stated.

While in the military, he joined an army band and found that the power of entertainment could challenge ingrained beliefs. "My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the only way I might hope to affect a man's thinking," he remarked.

Davis chose to convert to Judaism after learning more about Jewish history, culture, and religion, influenced by his close Jewish friend, Eddie Cantor. He even refused to perform on Yom Kippur when asked by Frank Sinatra. However, there was one incident when Davis wore a Star of David necklace, explaining to Sinatra that he couldn't find a shield of David.

Late Career

His next career milestone was a role in "Mr. Wonderful" on Broadway.

In 1959, Davis joined Frank Sinatra's "Rat Pack," an exclusive group of entertainers that included Sinatra, Dean Martin, and others. He appeared with them in the film "Ocean's Eleven" and "Sergeants 3" (both in 1960). In 1964, he starred with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra in "Robin and the 7 Hoods."

Davis insisted on not performing in racially segregated venues, which led to the desegregation of nightclubs in Miami and casinos in Las Vegas. In 1960, he made headlines by marrying Swedish actress May Britt, who was of white European descent and had converted to Judaism. The couple had two children together and adopted two more. They divorced in 1968.

In his autobiography, Davis candidly described his tumultuous lifestyle, which included relationships with numerous women, alcohol, and cocaine use, as well as financial difficulties.

Davis passed away on May 16, 1990, in Beverly Hills due to complications from throat cancer. He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, in the upper echelons of the American entertainment industry.

Sammy Davis Jr.'s legacy as a versatile entertainer who transcended racial boundaries and contributed significantly to American culture endures today. His remarkable journey from a young performer in a family dance troupe to a member of the legendary Rat Pack, as well as his personal and spiritual transformation, are emblematic of his enduring impact on the world of entertainment and civil rights.

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