Samuel George “Sammy” Davis Jr was an American singer, dancer, actor, and comedian. He is noted for his impersonations of actors, musicians and other celebrities. At the age of 3, Davis began his career in vaudeville with his father and Will Mastin as the Will Mastin Trio, which toured nationally. After military service, Davis returned to the trio. Davis became an overnight sensation following a nightclub performance at Ciro's (in West Hollywood) after the 1951 Academy Awards. With the trio, he became a recording artist. In 1954, he lost his left eye in a car accident, and several years later, he converted to Judaism.
Davis's film career began as a child in 1933. In 1960, he appeared in the Rat Pack film Ocean's 11. After a starring role on Broadway in 1956's Mr Wonderful, he returned to the stage in 1964's Golden Boy. In 1966 he had his own TV variety show, titled The Sammy Davis Jr. Show. Davis's career slowed in the late 1960s, but he had a hit record with “The Candy Man” in 1972 and became a star in Las Vegas, earning him the nickname “Mister Show Business”.
Davis was a victim of racism throughout his life, particularly during the pre-Civil Rights era, and was a large financial supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. Davis had a complex relationship with the black community, and drew criticism after publicly supporting President Richard Nixon in 1972 (although he later returned to being a Democrat). One day on a golf course with Jack Benny, he was asked what his handicap was. “Handicap?” he asked. “Talk about handicap. I'm a one-eyed Negro Jew.” This was to become a signature comment, recounted in his autobiography, and in countless articles.
After reuniting with Sinatra and Dean Martin in 1987, Davis toured with them and Liza Minnelli internationally, before he died of throat cancer in 1990. He died in debt to the Internal Revenue Service, and his estate was the subject of legal battles.
Davis was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy Award for his television performances. He was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1987, and in 2001, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
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