He Was All Heart, Talent And Joy


I REMEMBER that trip very clearly. My father, who was a photographer, had invited me to visit him in his underground New York apartment - it was ``big time'' for me, traveling to New York all alone, to visit my free-spirited Pop. I was just 13 years old, a budding (and somewhat snobbish) jazz musician, and I was slightly underwhelmed when my father told me he was going to take me to see Sammy Davis Jr. rehearsing for a Broadway show called ``Mr. Wonderful.'' A Broadway show? Sammy Davis Jr.? I definitely wasn't into it, even though Pop was taking the publicity photos. To me, Sammy Davis represented everything that was corny and old hat. Boy, did I change my mind after I saw him live. Later on, I used to pull out those photos that my father shot way back then, and marvel at how one little man could draw so many people into his aura.

I NEVER got to see him live again until he came to Radio City Music Hall in 1988 with Frank Sinatra - Sinatra was all steely blue eyes and professionalism, but Davis was all heart. I can't even remember now what he sang, but I was so taken with the man, with his energy, his joy, his sheer excellence, and especially his love for his work, that I forgot all over again about my dislike of what I perceived as empty-glitter Las Vegas performers.

Not that Sammy Davis didn't have glitter. His heavy goldchains and rings would have put any self-respecting rapper to shame, and he was a party animal who lived a hard and fast life - unfortunately fraught with drug and alcohol problems, not to mention being the victim of many incidents of racial discrimination.

But Sammy Davis Jr. has left behind a rich body of work, from his various film credits - including his portrayal of Sportin' Life in the 1959 film ``Porgy and Bess'' and his role as a veteran hoofer is his last movie ``Tap'' in 1989. Then there were the countless live performances, the TV appearances - in sitcoms, in specials, and his own variety shows, ``The Sammy Davis Jr. Show'' in 1966, and ``Sammy and Company'' from 1975 to '77.

``Mr. Wonderful'' ran for 383 performances starting in 1955, and was followed by ``Golden Boy,'' which clocked an impressive 569 performances in 1964. Sammy Davis Jr.'s life is chronicled in his two autobiographies, ``Yes, I Can'' (1965) and ``Why Me?'' (1989).

He was one of a fading breed - the quintesential child star who started hoofing before he could talk, and then spent his entire life in show business, from his early tours with the Will Mastin Trio right up to his passing last week. He will be missed.

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