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Sammy Davis Jr.
December 8, 1925 - May 16, 1990
Born in New York City, Sammy Davis Jr. entered show business at the age of two. His first exposure to the business was in an act with his father where they toured the vaudeville circuit. To bypass the strict child labor laws, Davis was billed as “Silent Sam the Dancing Midget.” Later at the age of seven, he debuted in his first film, “Rufus Jones for President.”
As a patriotic gesture Davis then still an adolescent, attempted to sign up for the army when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He was too young at the time, but one year later signed on for what was to be an a very long stretch in the army. Sammy had to endure basic training eight times; apparently the army was quite a challenge to someone of his slight stature. His specialty was song and dance and as you know the army does not have too many slots for variety artists. In addition to the basic training problems, Sammy endured a salvo of racist attacks, assaults, slights and slurs. Ultimately, this treatment fed his desire to become a star.
After getting out of the army, Sammy, Uncle Will and his father continued to struggle. It was at this time that Sammy first met Frank Sinatra, who was at the peak of his drawing power as a teen heartthrob. This would be a great opportunity for Davis because was still trying to get to the next level to become more than just another flash dance act.
When Sammy met Frank, his career took on a more positive direction, not because of his entry into The Rat Pack but because Sinatra opened many doors for him. Frank refused to play clubs that adhered to segregation of blacks, especially when Sammy was refused into these clubs after the show.
Sammy Davis in 1957 at Ciro's Nightclub
On November, 1954, while driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, Sammy was involved in a near fatal collision which resulted in the loss of his left eye. The accident generated enormous publicity for the rising young star. Finally he saw the light at the end of that long tunnel to a successful career in show business. From that moment on he worked hard to keep his name in the papers as he entertained audiences. Many times his attention getting antics would overshadow his artistic achievements, but nothing could ever diminish the incredible strength of Sammy’s talent.
During the 70’s and 80’s things in show business were changing. The traditional lounge acts that were popular in the 50’s and 60’s were now becoming a thing of the past. It was no surprise that Davis would now find it hard to fit in during the late 70’s and early 80’s. The only thing left for Sammy was to settle on entertaining in the showrooms of Las Vegas, Reno, Atlantic City or Lake Tahoe. Variety shows that appeared on television were now near extinction, so this was no longer an option for him either. Unfortunately too late for Sammy, there was a reemergence of performers in the 90’s, who like Davis had faded away.
Sammy Davis’ lifelong habit of inhaling enormous volumes of cigarette smoke resulted first in cancer of the throat. After many unsuccessful treatments, it spread to the rest of his body. On May 16, 1990, Sammy Davis Jr. died in Beverly Hills.
When Sammy Died , the lights on the Vegas strip went dark for an unheard of ten minutes in tribute to their beloved “Mr. Bojangles” The only other times the lights had been dimmed were for President John F. Kennedy and later, briefly for Dean Martin
According to his daughter Tracey Davis, the first hours after Sammy’s death went badly. Ignoring Sammy’s last request that his headstone should simply read: “The Entertainer,” his wife, Altovise, changed it to read: “The Entertainer. He Did It All: Your Loving Wife Altovise, Father of Tracey, Mark, Jeff and Mann.” Manny was a young man who was never adopted by Davis. Also against Davis’ wishes, he had an open casket, revealing his thin body that had been ravaged by cancer. And worse yet, a photographer had appeared out of nowhere and had taken pictures of Sammy in the casket.
Tracey, almost hysterical, had called their dear friend Shirley MacLaine and told her about the incident. Shirley told their mutual friend, David Steinberg, who confronted the photographer with a lie that Sinatra would have him killed if the photos weren't turned over to the family. The shaken photographer immediately complied. Tracey later discovered that it was Altovise who hired him to take the pictures.
Sammy’s death was the lead story in newspapers, on the radio, and television. When the motorcade left Sammy’s house, it looked like a presidential procession, thousands of people lined the streets, taking off hats, crying, and shouting “Sammy we love you.” Legions of celebrities showed up for the services. People were led through the park in groups to accommodate the many thousands of fans that showed up.
He once said, “You name it and I've done it. I’d like to say I did it my way. But that line, I’m afraid, belongs to someone else.” Well his grave is quite spectacular, it is located in Forest Lawn in Glendale. He is locked in the Garden of Honor, with fellow singer Sam Cooke. As you can see he has a beautiful white marble statue with “DAVIS,” inscribed in it. Sammy is not the only Davis under that statue, he is buried with his father, grandmother, and Uncle Will.
Shortly after his burial, I was told by a Forest Lawn caretaker, that the Davis Family found itself not only broke but owing taxes. Sammy was allegedly buried with $70,000 worth of jewelry. His wife ordered the cemetery to dig Davis up and she promptly removed the jewelry. Davis was finally allowed to rest in peace sans his trademark jewels.
Forest Lawn Cemetery - Glendale
1712 S. Glendale Ave
Garden of Honor
For directions see Jean Harlow in the Glamour Girls Chapter. Get a map, but don’t ask for any locations. Drive to the Freedom Mausoleum and park. Walk up the center of the court of Freedom. To the left of that is the Garden of Honor. Sometimes it is locked and sometimes it’s not. Inside is Sammy Davis is located to the right side of the garden along with his father They are located below a family statue that simply says “Davis.”