Unraveling The Sammy Davis Jr. Mystery

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

There are few American icons with as much cultural baggage as Sammy Davis Jr. It's like Elvis; he's been so maligned in death that it's easy to forget the magnitude of his talent. Well, stop. And watch this.

That's right — Sammy Davis Jr. was a complex character — he was accused of many things in his life and career, but above all, he was a consummate showman. That clear, sweet voice, imbued with humor and oodles of personality — there's nothing like it.

Today, we're talking with Matt Birkbeck — he's written a new book called Deconstructing Sammy: Music, Money, Madness, and the Mob. It's essentially a mystery tale, a piece of investigative journalism that unravels what happened to Davis' estate, and in the process reveals more about the man that we knew. Birkbeck spoke to people that have never spoken before — and the portrait of Sammy that emerges is difficult, demanding, and ultimately tragic. His legacy was besmirched by people that took advantage of him — but the truest legacy is the one above — his remarkable talent. Tell us how you saw Sammy Davis Jr. — entertainer? Civil rights campaigner? Mobster? Parent?

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

I first saw Sammy Davis, Jr. when he played Sporting Life in the movie of Porgy and Bess. He was so good that every time I saw him later, I saw Sporting Life. It warped my whole view.

Sent by Tom Rambo | 3:27 PM | 9-16-2008

The bigoted arrogance of the status quo "white" mind makes my flesh crawl. As a Black man I resent Mr. Biirkback believing and stating that Sammy Davis, Jr. was only popular because of his relationships with Sinatra, Martin and his other white buddies. Some friends! If they cared so much for Sammy, why wouldn't they (Sinatra, Martin, and the rest) lend Mr. Davis their accountant. Please white America, there have been and will continue to be successful Black people and Black organizations "without" the blessing of white people.

Sent by Jonathan Taylor | 2:48 AM | 9-17-2008