He was born in Dec. of 1925 in Harlem New York to New York vaudeville star Sammy Davis, Sr., and the Puerto Rican dancer, Elvera "Baby" Sanchez. When Davis was two his parents divorced and he was raised by his father. He began performing at the age of four, and starred in his first film (Rufus Jones For President) when he was six. Coached by legendary tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Davis achieved success on the vaudeville circuit, dancing with his father and adopted uncle in the Will Mastin Trio.
After a stint in the army, the triple threat singer/dancer/ actor launched his solo career. In 1946, Davis recorded "The Way You Look Tonight" for Capitol Records. In the late 1940s, Davis (still with the Will Mastin Trio) opened for Frank Sinatra at the Capitol Theatre in New York, which ignited a friendship that would last a lifetime.
He toured six months with Mickey Rooney and performed in a Bob Hope benefit show. Through Jack Benny, the trio won a booking at Ciro's in Hollywood and an appearance on the Colgate Comedy Hour. After an appearance at the Copacabana in New York, Decca Records signed Davis in 1954 and released his first albums, Starring Sammy Davis, Jr., and Just for Lovers. In 1954, he made headlines when he lost his left eye in a near-fatal car crash while driving back to Los Angeles from Las Vegas.
During his recovery in the hospital, he converted to Judaism, which was bruited about by the press. Davis continued treading on socially-controversial ground by carrying on a series of interracial romances, most notably with actress Kim Novak, and with the Swedish actress May Britt, whom he married in 1960. But even in these racially backward times, Davis came into his own on a professional level.
He debuted on Broadway in 1956 with the Will Mastin Trio in the musical comedy Mr. Wonderful. Davis began making appearances on t! elevision, including, The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1959, he resumed his film career in a breakthrough role as Sportin' Life in Porgy and Bess (1959). In the early 1960s, he appeared with his "Rat Pack" cohorts Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford in a series of films including Ocean's Eleven (1960), Sergeants Three (1962), and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964).
Davis returned to Broadway in 1964 as boxer Joe Wellington in a highly successful musical adaptation of the 1937 Clifford Odets drama "Golden Boy." Davis was also heavily involved in the civil-rights movement of the 1960s, working with the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others being an international symbol of African-American and Jewish rapport. Davis continued appearing on television variety shows and performing in Las Vegas throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
In 1972, he had a number-one hit on the top-forty charts with "Candy Man." Davis acted in two Cannonball Run films in the early 1980s. After undergoing reconstructive hip surgery in 1985, Davis recovered sufficiently to co-star and dance with Gregory Hines in the film "Tap" (1989). And, after announcing that he had successfully overcome an addiction to cocaine and alcohol, Davis embarked on a concert tour in 1988-1989 with fellow Rat-packers Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
Although he did not show it or speak about it, Davis was said to be sick on the tour. On Sept. 14 1989, Davis publically announced that he had throat cancer and would begin radiation therapy. On Nov. 13, 1989, an unprecedented turnout of stars appeared at taping of Sammy Davis Tribute in Hollywood. Sammy Davis, Jr. succumbed to throat cancer at his Beverly Hills, California, home on May 16, 1990.
His funeral attracted thousands of unknown individuals and the Who's Who of entertainment. Davis funeral was a moving, tear-filled ceremony, punctuated by applause and the standing ovations that characterized his life. A 300-car caravan followed his remains to his Forest Lawn, Glendale, gravesite.
Davis was married three times, first to Loray White, a dancer; to actress May Britt, with whom he had one daughter and adopted two sons; and his wife at the time of his death, Altovise Gore, a former showgirl. Davis also wrote three autobiographies, Yes I Can (1965), Life In A Suitcase (1980) and Why Me?
(bio by: Curtis Jackson)