Related topics

Entertainment World Remembers Sammy Davis Jr

May 17, 1990

Entertainment World Remembers Sammy Davis Jr. For Warmth, Generosity With PM-Davis-Career-List

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Hollywood’s stars shed tears for Sammy Davis Jr., the exuberant song-and- dance man who started as a goggle-eyed child vaudevillian and battled to the glittery top of the entertainment world.

The man who joked he was the nation’s only ″black, one-eyed, Jewish entertainer″ died early Wednesday of throat cancer at age 64.

″A heaven with his magic gives me warmth,″ said Frank Sinatra. ″Sam was the best friend a man could have. He was a class act and I will miss him forever.″

Davis died at his Beverly Hills home, his wife, Altovise, and three of his four children at his side. He was diagnosed with throat cancer eight months ago and had returned home from the hospital March 13 after a two-month stay.

Davis - actor, singer, dancer and impressionist - performed on stage, on television and in the movies, a powerhouse packed into a bantam, 5-foot-6 frame.

His gold chains, heavy rings and gaudy bracelets were as much a part of his personality as his chain smoking, his self-mocking hip patter of ″peace″ and ″love″ and his membership in Hollywood’s Rat Pack along with Sinatra and others.

His hit songs included ″Something’s Gotta Give″ (1955), ″I’ve Gotta Be Me″ (1969) and ″The Candy Man″ (1972). His films included ″Porgy and Bess,″ ″Oceans 11″ ″Robin and the Seven Hoods″ and ″Sweet Charity.″

Davis began as a tap-dancing toddler in Harlem. In the vaudeville days, he danced bug-eyed with white paint on his face because that’s what white producers wanted. Decades later, he couldn’t gamble or rent a room in some of the Las Vegas hotels at which he played.

In the 1960s, after he had made it, some black activists derided him as a sell-out. Others considered him a gilded Las Vegas drone. But he had millions of fans and was admired as an entertainer’s entertainer.

″I would say that Sammy Davis Jr. was the greatest entertainer in show business,″ George Burns said. ″There wasn’t anything Sammy Davis couldn’t do.″

″He was the entertainer we all strived to live up to,″ said Liza Minnelli, who toured with Davis and Sinatra last year. ″I never saw anyone give so much.″

Sinatra canceled the remainder of a weeklong concert series at Radio City Music Hall after learning of Davis’ death.

Davis’ energetic performances and upbeat manner were therapy for a life scarred by bigotry, failed marriages, drug and alcohol abuse and crippling tax problems.

He wrote two autobiographies, ″Yes, I Can″ in 1965, and ″Why Me?″ in 1989. In the latter, he described his all-night partying, endless drug use and womanizing - the hallmark of the 1960s Rat Pack, which also included Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine.

But friends said they remembered Davis for his warmth and generosity.

″As great an entertainer as Sammy was, he was an even greater friend, not only to me, but to anyone whose life he touched,″ said Martin.

Jerry Lewis wept as he spoke about Davis. ″I lost a brother,″ Lewis said. ″The whole world is a lot less now than when we had him.″

Davis was active in many charitable causes, often appearing on Lewis’ telethons for muscular dystrophy. His death brought tributes from former President Reagan and civil rights leader Benjamin L. Hooks.

″The world has lost not only an irreplaceable talent, but a humanitarian whose heart was so big, so filled with caring for others,″ said Hooks, executive director of the NAACP.

Davis was born Dec. 8, 1925, the son of dancer Sammy Davis and chorus girl Elvera Sanchez Davis. When he was 4, his father and ″adopted uncle″ Will Mastin passed him off as a 44-year-old midget.

Trained in tap dance by the legendary Bill ″Bojangles″ Robinson, Davis went on the vaudeville circuit and criss-crossed the country 23 times by age 15.

″From the time I can remember, I’ve been around grease paint,″ Davis once said. ″While other kids my age were playing with marbles and toys, I knew only about the backstage dressing rooms.″

When he was 18, Davis joined the Army and experienced prejudice that he would say gave him something to prove. His nose was broken in a fight with a white soldier. Others painted him white, to remind him that he wasn’t.

A triumphant first engagement in Hollywood in 1951 led to a signing by Decca Records. His first Broadway show, ″Mr. Wonderful,″ opened in 1955 and ran for 383 performances.

By the 1960s, Davis had established himself as one of the most popular and richly compensated entertainers in the world. But emotional troubles continued to plague him until recent years.

He married dancer Loray White in 1958; they divorced a year later. He wed Swedish actress Mai Britt in 1961, and they had a daughter and adopted two sons. They were divorced in 1968. He married Altovise Gore, a dancer in his nightclub act, in 1970, and they adopted a son.

A funeral is planned for Friday at the 1,200-seat Hall of Liberty in the Hollywood Hills.

Update hourly