His very life spanned the history of old-school show business, starting out as a 9-year-old dancing prodigy in vaudeville. He acquired many other skills over the years, "saloon singer" (like Sinatra), impressionist, comedic and dramatic actor. Of all the members of the Rat Pack, he was probably the apotheosis of the old-line Vegas performer (he was also its Jackie Robinson in many respects) that lives on today in Branson and wherever Wayne Newton might be tonight.

(1925-1990) Spent his entire life in show business, starting at the age of three when he performed with his father in the Will Mastin Trio in vaudeville. He served in the first integrated unit in the United States Army. After his discharge he met Frank Sinatra, who became one of his closest friends and who first suggested that he try his hand at a singing career. Sammy became a successful recording artist, Broadway performer, movie actor, television personality, and best-selling author, as well as a cornerstone of the infamous Rat Pack. He spent money faster than it came in, blowing several fortunes in succession on clothes, furs, jewelry, parties, mansions, a personal jet, and pretty much anything else he took a fancy to, feeling that he had an obligation to maintain his image as a "swinger" lest the public lose interest. He suffered several severe setbacks in his career, any one of which could have stopped him cold. The short list includes:
  • the auto accident that cost him his eye
  • his marriage to white actress May Britt in the early 1960s, which prompted hate mail and death threats
  • His appointment to President Nixon's National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity, which alienated much of his black audience
  • the alcoholism which nearly killed him
  • a debilitating hip condition which could have rendered him unable to dance again.

His signature songs were "The Candy Man" and "Mr. Bojangles", both of which he initially had to be pressured into recording -- "Candy Man" because he thought it stunk, and "Bojangles" because the story an aging tap dancer who dies alone and penniless in jail hit a little too close to home.

Sammy flirted with Satanism for a short time in the 1960s, drawn to it because it was forbidden, it would earn him notoriety in the media, and it involved wild partying and group sex. Once the fun stopped though, Sammy was out. A few years later his Satanist associate and hairstylist Jay Sebring was murdered by members of the Manson family at Sharon Tate's home, only three days after Sammy dined with Sharon herself in London. He subsequently learned that he too was on Manson's hit list along with other prominent black celebrities.

Sammy was the ultimate showman, knocking himself out ever night to entertain his audience. I never saw him perform, but I rememember being a kid in Vegas and looking up at the old Caesar's Palace sign with SAMMY! spelled out in glowing neon, and feeling a thrill of excitement that no other performer's name, however grand their reputation, ever produced in me. Sammy was the Man, man. Dig it.

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