Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the death of Sammy Davis Jr. Upon learning this I realized that I knew very little about the legend and his impact on Black Hollywood. So after digging around the interwebs for a while I discovered some pretty cool and interesting facts about the multi-talented entertainer.
Samuel George Davis Jr was born in 1925 in New York City. At the age of three he became a member of his fathers African American dance troop in Vaudeville and by the time he was six he had gained a notable rep due to his outstanding singing and tap dancing skills.
After serving time in the military he rejoined the dance troop and quickly re-established a huge name for himself which ultimately led to a leading role in the Broadway Show Mr. Wonderful. Shortly afterwards his career escalated to an even higher level when he became the only African American member of the infamous Hollywood clique called the Rat Pack – led by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. His pivotal role in the 1960 film Oceans Eleven easily solidified Davis as an A list actor.
Despite his success in film and music Sammy Davis Jr. still had to deal with mountains of racism throughout his career. From not being allowed to sleep in certain hotel rooms to being prohibited to gamble in Las Vegas casinos (even though he was headlining a major show), Sammy learned that being in the entertainment spotlight removed some of the prejudice towards him but not all of it, therefore he worked as hard as he could to make his talent his deadly weapon – while vowing not to work at establishments that practiced racial segregation. He did however take on some heat from activists in the black community for his backing of Richard Nixon in1970.
Even still, Sammy Davis’ career continued to steadily progress throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. He landed his own television variety show, countless movie and TV roles; he penned the theme song to Baretta, and appeared in Archie Bunker, The Cosby Show, Gimmie a Break and Charlies Angels. He scored his first and only number one Billboard hit with his cover of the song Candy Man, which was best known in the children’s movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. His signature dialect and pose has been been widely emulated and he has earned multiple Grammy and Emmy nominations, even after his death on May 16, 1990 from complications of throat cancer. Sammy was idolized by idols such as Michael Jackson, James Brown and Jackie Wilson and will forever be known as one of the greatest entertainers to grace the earth.