Sammy Davis, Jr. (December 8, 1925 - May 16, 1990) was an American "all-around" entertainer. He danced, sang, played vibraphone, trumpet, and drums, did impressions, and acted.
He was born in Harlem, New York City to Elvera Sanchez, a Puerto Rican, and Sammy Davis, Sr., an Afro-American, who were vaudeville dancers. As an infant, he was raised by his paternal grandmother. When he was three years old, his parents split up. His father, not wanting to lose custody of his son, took him on tour.
As a child he learned how to dance from his father, Sammy Davis, Sr. and his "uncle" Will Mastin, who led the dance troupe his father worked for. Davis joined the act as a young child and they became the Will Mastin Trio. Throughout his long career, Davis included the Will Mastin Trio in his billing.
Mastin and his father had shielded him from racism. Snubs were explained as jealousy, for instance, but during World War II, Davis served in the United States Army, where he was first confronted by strong racial prejudice. As he said later, "Overnight the world looked different. It wasn't one color anymore. 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."
While in the service, however, he joined an entertainment unit, and found that the spotlight removed some of the prejudice. "My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the one way I might hope to affect a man's thinking," he said.
After he was discharged, he rejoined the dance act and began to achieve success. He suffered a setback in 1954, when an automobile accident resulted in the loss of an eye. Later that year, he converted to Judaism, and the next year he released his second album.
The next move in his growing career was to appear in the Broadway show Mr. Wonderful.
In 1959 he became a charter member of the Rat Pack, which was led by his old friend Frank Sinatra.
After he achieved success he refused to work at venues which would practice racial segregation. His demands eventually led to the integration of Miami Beach nightclubs and Las Vegas casinos.
In 1960, Davis caused controversy when he married white Swedish-born actress May Britt. At that time interracial marriages were forbidden by law in 31 US states out of 50, and only in 1967 those laws were abolished by the US Supreme Court. The couple had one daughter and adopted two sons. They divorced in 1968.
That year Sammy Davis, Jr. started dating Altovise Gore, a dancer in one of his shows. They were wed in 1970 by Rev. Jesse Jackson. They remained married until Sammy Davis, Jr.'s death in 1990.
In either the late 1960s or early 1970s, Davis joined Anton LaVey's Church of Satan.
In Japan, Davis appeared in television commercials for coffee.
In his autobiography, Davis describes his swinger lifestyle which included alcohol, cocaine, and women. He also chronicles his financial difficulties.
He died in Beverly Hills, California on May 16, 1990 of complications from throat cancer, a result of his many years of smoking. Davis is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
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