Many saw him as a rival to his fellow rat-packer Frank Sinatra. He brought black into the white homes of segregated America and entertained all.
Thanks to his parents, Sammy Davis Jr's route to fame began in Vaudeville, before moving on to the dizzy heights of Broadway and Las Vegas.
An all-round performer, he could sing, act, dance and make people laugh with his many impersonations. Davis's long career in show business was even more remarkable because he managed to overcome racial barriers, in an era of strict segregation and racism.
Davis was drafted into the US Army when was eighteen and his experiences were not happy ones.
Suffering abuse by fellow soldiers, he was transferred to an entertainment regiment, and eventually found himself performing in front of some of the same soldiers who had painted the word "coon" on his forehead.
After the war, Davis went solo and signed a recording contract with Decca Records. His first two albums - ‘Starring Sammy Davis, Jr’ and ‘Just for Lovers’ – both sold well and he soon became a headliner in Las Vegas and New York.
In the 1960s Davis managed to turn an average Broadway show, ‘Mr Wonderful’, into a roaring success. He went on to woo critics in the film ‘Porgy and Bess’ and, as a member of the high-profile ‘Rat Pack’, he hobnobbed with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Curtis, and Joey Bishop. The highlife also served up pitfalls for Davis, and his marriage to Swedish actress May Britt earned him the vitriol of the Ku Klux Klan. While his ‘Rat Pack’ ways of drink and drugs threatened his health, his lavish lifestyle nearly bankrupted him.
In the mid-1950s, Sammy was involved with Kim Novak, who was a valuable star under contract to Columbia Studios. The head of the studio, Harry Cohn called one of the mob bosses, who was asked to tell Sammy that he had to stop the affair.
In 1960, Davis caused controversy when he married white Swedish-born actress May Britt. Davis received hate mail when he was starring in the Broadway musical adaptation of Golden Boy from 1964 - 1966 (for which he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor), but that did not bother his fans. At the time Davis appeared in the play, interracial marriages were forbidden by law in many US states. The couple had one daughter and adopted two sons.
Davis performed almost continuously and spent little time with his wife. They divorced in 1968, after Davis admitted to having had an affair with singer Lola Falana. That year, Davis started dating Altovise Gore, a dancer in "Golden Boy". They were wed in 1970 by Jesse Jackson. They adopted a child, and remained married until Davis' death in 1990.
Davis became addicted to drugs and alcohol, later developing both liver and kidney trouble which required hospitalisation in 1974.
The last fifteen years of Davis's life were conducted at the performer's usual hectic pace. In 1978 he appeared in another Broadway musical, ‘Stop the World - I Want To Get Off’
Following the discovery of a throat tumour in 1989, Davis underwent radiation therapy, but died in 1990.