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Interview with Altovise Davis

Aired May 27, 2002 - 21:00   ET



SAMMY DAVIS JR., SINGER (singing): Though it may be once in a lifetime, I'm going to do great things.

Take it as a personal favor, if you will.


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: He wowed audiences with his incredible talent, ran with Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack, and fought a long, brave battle against cancer. Sammy Davis Jr.'s widow, Altovise, shares intimate memories of an amazing man -- a rare interview. It's next on LARRY KING LIVE.

He was arguably the greatest entertainer that ever lived, the incredible Sammy Davis Jr. in phases of his life. He was a child star, too, with the Will Mastin Trio. Sammy was a dear friend of yours truly and this program. And tonight, we have a tribute and a look inside the life of Sammy Davis with his widow, Altovise Davis, the widow of Sammy Davis Jr., who died May 16, 1990 -- my God, it's been 12 years -- at the age of 65. Just a little while before that, he appeared on this program.

You'll be seeing a lot of clips as well tonight from the life and times of Sammy Davis.

How did you meet, you and Sammy?

ALTOVISE DAVIS, WIDOW OF SAMMY DAVIS JR.: Really, we met -- every night, we'd go to a bowling alley on Thursday. Every Broadway show, we'd go to a bowling alley.

KING: And you were in what show?

A. DAVIS: I was in "High Spirits" with Bea Lillie and Tammy Grimes.

KING: And he was in?

A. DAVIS: "Golden Boy."

KING: "Golden Boy," the musical version.

A. DAVIS: The musical version.

KING: We also saw him in "Mr. Wonderful."



KING: Why not a return to Broadway?

S. DAVIS: I would love to, Larry. I would love to come back to Broadway, because there is a love and an affection that I have for that street and for the city of New York, because they were always supportive to me. But I can't find the property to get back in, because I'm 61 years old. I'm not the boy wonder anymore.

KING: "Mr. Wonderful" won't work.

S. DAVIS: Yes, "Mr. Wonderful" and "Golden Boy" won't work for me anymore.

But if I could find something, I would like to come back and show to the people who love theater, both the performers and the people who support theater in America, that I have a great deal of respect for it, because I think, maybe in the past, some of the things that I did, in running around -- and that was a different time, a different place some 25 years, 30 years ago -- I think maybe they got the wrong impression. And I'm a different person than I was then.


A. DAVIS: I loved his mind. I loved hearing him talk.

KING: Me, too.

A. DAVIS: But, you know, he was an avid reader. And he was very gregarious.

KING: And very bright.

A. DAVIS: Very, very bright.

KING: But you also know he liked the ladies.

A. DAVIS: Oh, yes.

KING: Sammy was a ladies man.

A. DAVIS: Yes, he was. He'd tell a lady on the street, "I think you look wonderful."

KING: Did that create any fear in you when you began to fall in love with someone who liked women?

A. DAVIS: No, I almost started to become jealous, but I wasn't, because I thought, "I'd like somebody to say, 'Hey, I think you look good today.'" It makes your day. KING: So, you appreciated it.

A. DAVIS: I appreciated it very much.

KING: Of course, he had a deep, abiding love for you, didn't he?

A. DAVIS: Yes, he did. It was like a Stevie Wonder song, "I've got someone who needs me," you know? "I've got someone who loves me who never loved me before."

KING: You had a little boy, right?

A. DAVIS: Yes, we had a little boy, Manny.

KING: Who is now?

A. DAVIS: He's now 22. He went into the Army, just like his dad. And he's now out of the Army now.

KING: What a life Sammy had: married to a white woman at a time that didn't occur.

A. DAVIS: That's true.

KING: May Britt, had two children with May Britt. How are they doing?

A. DAVIS: There are three children with May.

KING: Three?

A. DAVIS: Yes.

KING: How are they doing?

A. DAVIS: They're doing just fine. There's one girl and two boys.

KING: People in the audience may not know what a stir that was. You were a kid, I guess, when he was...

A. DAVIS: When he got married to her?

KING: Yes.

A. DAVIS: Oh, yes, I was a kid when he got married to her.

KING: That was a story that went through...

A. DAVIS: The roof, right?

KING: Ruined her career, right? They stopped giving her movies. But Sammy was gutsy.

A. DAVIS: Yes, he was, always had been.


S. DAVIS: You know, being a celebrity doesn't protect you from racism. I'm even more aware of my brothers and sisters who have to face it who don't have the cloak of celebrity to protect them.

So, you got to fight it every day we can, all of us. And when I say my brothers and sisters, I mean good people, period. I'm not just talking about black or white. I'm talking about everyone who is disenfranchised. But the bitterness is overridden by the fact that I'm in a position. I have survived. And I think and I pray to God that I can do some good and eradicate it more and more. But, personally, I would be dishonest if I said I didn't have a little bit of it.

KING: You will agree, Sammy, that you probably saw less of it than the average American black.

S. DAVIS: Absolutely. Wait a minute. I said that.

The cat on the street, the man on the street, he hasn't got celebrity. That's what I mean. At least you're protected by that. I can buy my way into this now. Those days I couldn't, because they wouldn't let you into the hotels.


KING: People don't know. He started as a family group, sort of like Michael Jackson with his family. He was the baby of the Will Mastin Trio.

A. DAVIS: Yes, as his father used to tell me, he never wore short pants. He always wore long pants. And they passed him off as a midget with a chocolate cigar.

KING: Father and his uncle, right? He always gave them do respect.

A. DAVIS: Absolutely. Daddy, Sammy, and Will Mastin did the Will Mastin Trio.

KING: And they were booked as the Will Mastin Trio. When he would work the big hotels in Miami Beach, it was the Will Mastin Trio, featuring Sammy Davis Jr.

A. DAVIS: Absolutely.

KING: And he loved acting.

A. DAVIS: He loved acting. After a while, he loved doing those impersonations.


S. DAVIS: Don't get smart, you understand? Croon a tune. And it better be, it better be from the heart of Dixie, or I'll give you two of these for one of those. (LAUGHTER)


A. DAVIS: He did the Cagney with Jimmy Stewart.

KING: And I might also say, he was one of the best interview subjects.


KING: I mean you didn't have a normal childhood, did you?

S. DAVIS: There was no such thing as normalcy, as far as I'm concerned. I was raised in show business. I never had a day of formal education. I'm not using these things as an excuse, because I know some of the smartest men and women I know never went to school. But I'm not proud of the statement that I never went.

But I never did have a formal education. I never -- my first time being exposed to outside of show business was when I went into the Army when I was 17 years old. That was my first touch with reality, with our society as it existed in the '40s.


A. DAVIS: He used to ask me questions like, "Who's the 31st president?"

Well, I'd go, "I don't know."

He said, "But you went to school."

"But I forget." I said: "I know. I studied so I could get out of school."

KING: What kind of dad was he?

A. DAVIS: He was -- he had a goal in his mind. He wasn't the best dad. And he has often said that. And he did the best he could. And he took care of his children. And he was a nice man. He was a good man. He was a gentle man. And he was a giving man.

KING: The one and only Sammy Davis Jr., what memories tonight with his widow, Altovise Davis. This is LARRY KING LIVE.

Don't go away.


CALLER: One of the great moments for me was back in the '70s, when you gave Archie Bunker a little kiss on the cheek.


S. DAVIS: I knew you were going to say that. CALLER: And I'm just wondering how that came about and what your personal reflections or memories


KING: Yes, that historic "All in the Family" episode, how did that come about?

S. DAVIS: Well, it came about because Carroll and I are friends. And he said, "I'll get the guys on it," because I said to him in passing at a party, I said, "Gee, I'd like to do the show."

He said, "What a great idea for Archie Bunker to meet you." And then the writers took over. And Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin, they took over and oversaw the writers. And then, in the final analysis, what you saw, the kiss and all of that, was Carroll's idea, because the ending was not like that. As a matter of fact, it had a very dramatic ending, with me telling him off and storming out of the house, with the kids cheering.

Well, by the time Sally got through, and Rob, and, of course, as I mentioned, Carroll saying: "No, why don't we do it this say? Sam, how would you deal with it, if you really went into a bigot's house?"

I said, "I'd try to disengage him with humor and try to put him on, and particularly since I see the two young kids here, who understand where I'm coming from." And Carroll bought it. He sat down and scratched it out himself. So, that's how it came about. But to be a part of it was joyous.


BILLY HALOP, ACTOR: Can I get a picture?

CARROLL O'CONNOR, ACTOR: Oh, come on, Munson, no pictures.

S. DAVIS: Oh, no, this one is for me.

Mr. Munson, would you stand over there? I want one picture taken with Archie Bunker, my friend, and me.

O'CONNOR: You and me?

S. DAVIS: Yes. Now, on three, OK? One, two, three.





S. DAVIS: So, I say, why don't you spread a little sunshine? It's a party all over the place. And put on a happy face.



CALLER: Sammy, we need you around here. Please don't smoke.

KING: OK, I did it, but I got scared to death.

Sammy, are you going to stop?

S. DAVIS: I've tried and I'm trying now. But, of all the vices, you know how hard it is. It's worse than drugs. It's worse than liquor. I try not to wake up in the morning and do the obvious. I don't walk on the stage with a cigarette anymore. I'm trying to do the best I can, but it's a tough battle.

But I thank the gentleman for calling. I thank the people who write me. It is the nicest feeling in the world, Larry -- and I don't want to get maudlin about it -- but when people stop you on the street or send a note back and say, "Sam, we need you," or, "We like the way you entertain; don't smoke," that is the greatest feeling of love. And I thank them for that.

KING: Frank stopped. Frank stopped at age 69, right?

S. DAVIS: Yes. And every once in a while, from what I understand, he looks at a cigarette and goes, "Ah," and throws it away, or he fools with it. But if it gets within my reach, that's it, man. It's over with.

KING: In fact, it was very much a prop in your act, wasn't it?

S. DAVIS: Yes.

KING: It was part of the Sammy Davis allure.

S. DAVIS: Yes. It was part of what I grew up with. For instance, in the old days, part of being chic, man, was, if you did impressions, you did it with the Bogart: "All right, the lot of ya's up against the wall."

KING: You danced and smoked.

S. DAVIS: I danced and smoked. I did everything and smoked.


KING: His illness: Sammy smoked.

A. DAVIS: Yes, he did.

KING: Too much.

A. DAVIS: Yes.

KING: In fact, I never saw him without one.

A. DAVIS: Barely ever. I didn't smoke -- but barely ever without a cigarette.

KING: When he was first diagnosed, can you tell me your memory of that, what he told you with the cancer? How did that happen?

A. DAVIS: When he was first diagnosed, I think he was devastated.


S. DAVIS: Doctor Shagodin (ph) walked in and he said, "You have an ulcerated carcinoma, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)"

And I went, "Are you telling me I got cancer?" And he looked at me like this. I said, "Because I don't know them other words."

And he said, "Yes."

I said, "Is it on the vocal cord?"

He said, "No, it's behind the vocal cord."

Now, you must remember, hearing this, this has been the straightest period of my life, taking care of myself.

KING: No drugs, no booze.

S. DAVIS: No booze, no nothing, never sung better in my life than I have in the last 3 1/2, four years.

KING: But still smoking?

S. DAVIS: I was still smoking. So, now I hear this. And I said, "Well, what do I have?" And he explained it to me, broke it down in layman's parlance.


KING: And then what? It came back?

A. DAVIS: Then it came back. And then that was the hard one. So he had choices to make.


S. DAVIS: We talked about whether I should take chemotherapy, which I was afraid of. I didn't want to go in physically and have them do an operation, because I didn't -- I had a fear about, then, that something would happen and...

KING: Foreign object in your throat.

So, what was the third?

S. DAVIS: Radiation.

KING: And that's what you chose. S. DAVIS: I had 40 treatments.

KING: Do you do it consecutive days?

S. DAVIS: Five days a week every day.

KING: Does it knock you out?

S. DAVIS: Yes. It knocks you to your knees.


A. DAVIS: And it was a long, long struggle.


S. DAVIS: I haven't talked about this. You must forgive me. That's why I'm not too articulate about it.

KING: We forgive you.

S. DAVIS: It's funny, because I haven't, because everybody that I've discussed this with is close, are so close to me, Altovise of course, Shirley Rhodes (ph), friends.


KING: I understand.

S. DAVIS: I thought I had control. In any event...

KING: We're all friends.

S. DAVIS: I know that. Thank you.


KING: It took him -- it was like two years, right, wasn't it?

A. DAVIS: Yes, just about.

KING: But he sneak-smoked, didn't he?

A. DAVIS: Yes, you know, like a little boy in a candy store.

KING: No, on this show, he said he stopped smoking. He went into the green room and smoked.


A. DAVIS: Did he?


KING: Do you now regret having ever smoked?

S. DAVIS: No. I'll never smoke cigarettes again, of course never. But I won't be...

KING: But you don't blame them, or...

S. DAVIS: No, I can't be hypocritical, as much joy as I got out of lighting a cigarette and doing the jokes.

KING: You used to have signs in your dressing room, "Please smoke."

S. DAVIS: "Please smoke."

KING: Yes.

S. DAVIS: And, you know, so what am I going to say now, because it happened to me? Of course it's dumb, Larry. Of course it's dumb. It's like, whatever caused your ill effects with your body...

KING: You smoked. It's stupid, dumb. Why do we do dumb things?

S. DAVIS: There you go.

It's dumb, but I also -- that morning puff, that's what I miss, coffee in the morning and the -- I loved the gestures with it, the moves you could make with it talking.

KING: Well, what do you do now?


KING: You're going a little nuts.

S. DAVIS: Crazy, crazy, absolutely crazy.

KING: But no fear you'll smoke again.


KING: He died at home, didn't he?

A. DAVIS: Yes, he died at home. And my son, my eldest son, Mark (ph), took days with me staying, because we had a nurse around the clock, staying one night. And I stayed another night. And the two middle boys, Jeff and Mark (ph), they stayed together upstairs.

KING: It was, as Frank Sinatra said, a bad death, wasn't it? I mean, he was in pain. He looked terrible, right? Was it hard for you?

A. DAVIS: Yes, it was very hard for me. And he couldn't talk so much, so I would have to really lean down and listen to him. And he would talk to me very quietly in his ear.

And people would come in the room and talk and talk so loudly. And he would say, "Would you tell them I can hear; it's just that I can't talk?"

KING: Did he know he was going to die?

A. DAVIS: I think he knew. When you start to give things away, I think you know.

KING: What do you mean?

A. DAVIS: Well, he would give things to his son-in-law, gave things to his daughter.

KING: Things like what, watches?

A. DAVIS: Yes, watches, jewelry.

KING: He was a major jewelry collector, right?

A. DAVIS: Oh, yes, yes.

KING: How many watches did he have?

A. DAVIS: Oh, gosh, I couldn't even begin to count.

KING: He would buy them on a whim, right?

A. DAVIS: Oh, yes.

KING: He could spend money.

A. DAVIS: Oh, yes. That he could do.


KING: You estimate spending $50 million in 20 years?

S. DAVIS: Somewhere in the -- I'd say between $30 million and $50 million.

KING: And where is it, Sam?

S. DAVIS: In smoke. It went up in the air.

I sometimes analyze that what I could have done with that in terms of self, but also what I could have done with it in terms of goodness and just better I should have thrown it out of a window and let the people have the money, as opposed to sitting and losing millions at gaming tables, giving watches and, you know -- $2,000 watches to strange people on the street that didn't mean me or our society any good.

But it was front-running. And when you get on that roll where you're front-running, Larry, and you've seen too many people, like I have, now I look at them and I can spot them a mile away. But I couldn't see myself at that point in time.


KING: Did you have a big debt when he died? A. DAVIS: Yes, I did have a big debt.

KING: Internal Revenue.

A. DAVIS: Very much so.

KING: How did you work that out?

A. DAVIS: Very slowly. It had to be worked out slowly. I mean, they had an auction at Butterfield (ph). The house was sold, the big house on of Summit Drive. And things just kind of went slowly. A lot of friends did help me and to help me, see me through.

KING: What was it like the day he died?

A. DAVIS: The day he died -- now I get chills.

The day he died, it was early in the morning. And I guess -- I guess one knows it when you are going to die. And the nurse who was there, that's the nurse I really liked. And she said, "Mrs. D., I think it's time."

And I got up and I went. And he held my hand. And he kissed me. And he says, "I always loved you." And he didn't want me to really look at him. He didn't want me to look at him in his face. And he just held my hand and he turned his head. And that was that.

KING: Sinatra took it badly, did he not?

A. DAVIS: Yes, Sinatra took it badly, because Dean had died before.

KING: Yes.


QUESTION: How do you think Sammy should be remembered?

FRANK SINATRA, SINGER: Well, from my standpoint, he should be remembered as one of the finest human beings I ever knew in my life -- and, of course, multi-talented. He was a wonderful, wonderful boy.


A. DAVIS: Sinatra came. And Liza came. The Sinatra family came.

KING: How did Sammy deal with Dean's death?

A. DAVIS: Sammy -- I think -- Sammy dealt badly about it. He wanted Dean not to leave when they were doing...

KING: ... their tour together.

A. DAVIS: Their tour together. And he really talked him into it and talked him into staying. But after that one morning, Dean was just gone. But Sammy was the one that talked to him. Frank didn't talk to Dean.

KING: Frank was mad, right?

A. DAVIS: He was mad. Well, yes, just a tad bit.

KING: Frank could get angry.

A. DAVIS: Oh, yes.

KING: He and Sammy had some differences at times, didn't they?

A. DAVIS: At times, yes. They always had differences, but there was a love-hate relationship. They were like brothers.


KING: Has Sinatra's friendship always remained constant?

S. DAVIS: Always.

It has been there. Even when we were not speaking, it was there -- because he didn't like my lifestyle. And he would not be dictatorial, but word got back to me, and Frank says: "He doesn't want to go near you as long as you're into this and you're into that. And what are you doing with your life? And he doesn't" -- and, subsequently, the girls -- the ladies, I should say -- Barbara Sinatra and Altovise, my wife of 19 years, they were responsible for getting the two of us back together again for a sit-down where we had dinner at Caesar's Palace.

And I made commitment to him then. And I'm the better for it, because I knew the man that spent, at that point in time, almost 30 years in caring about me.


A. DAVIS: And they always got back together again.

KING: And Sammy was like the bridge between Frank and Dean, right?

A. DAVIS: Yes.

KING: When there were differences there, he was the...

A. DAVIS: When there were differences of opinion, he was the intermediary there.

KING: Altovise Davis is our guest, the widow of Sammy Davis Jr.

We'll be right back.


CALLER: Was there ever a problem with egos working around people like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis? In light of the Martin-and-Lewis feud for so long, do you think they'll ever make up?

KING: Well, that's kind of two questions in one.

How about the ego problem? Do you have an ego problem?

S. DAVIS: No. There has never been an ego problem with Frank. I never felt one. As a matter of fact, when I was still an opening act, he was doing this to me, saying: "Hey, we all go together. That's the way it is."


KING: We're back, discussing the life and times of the late Sammy Davis Jr., gone now almost 12 years.

Was Frank supportive after his death?

A. DAVIS: After his death, you know that Frank was starting to get sick himself.

KING: But still a long way from going.

A. DAVIS: Oh, yes, a long way from going. I would talk to them. I saw them occasionally for dinner. And I would take Manny to dinner. And I would also see little Nancy and big Nancy.

KING: The first.

A. DAVIS: Yes, the first Nancy.

KING: I mean, but did Frank call a lot? Did he come over a lot? Did he...

A. DAVIS: He didn't come over a lot, no. I guess maybe that brought back memories, but he did call me every once in a while.


S. DAVIS: I always wanted to sing with the delicacy and the sensitivity of Frank Sinatra. So, that part of it, long before we became buddy-buddies, I always looked up at him. I took it to far. I became, by public opinion, I think, a fawning dog at the feet of the masters. But it was not at the behest of Sinatra. He never wanted me to act that way. He treated me as an equal. I wouldn't accept the equality.


A. DAVIS: He used to tell me that Frank use to -- after they used to play at the Sands, they used to -- afterwards, they would do a movie, and then they would do a nightclub, and then they would go out and hang out.

KING: "Oceans Eleven" was made all the time...

A. DAVIS: All the time at the Sands. And Sammy sang the last song, "Eee-O-Eleven."

And then sometimes Frank would say: "Come on now. We're going to listen this." And he'd let him listen to opera. He said and that's what he -- "We'd sit there and listen to opera." And he says, "Sometimes I wanted to go out and go and boogie and dance and cajole around and drink and smoke and have fun."

KING: Sammy also drank a lot. How did you handle that?

A. DAVIS: I handled it, because, at that time, he handled it.


KING: Were you an alcoholic?

S. DAVIS: Well, I don't think an alcoholic in the sense that everyone thinks of an alcoholic. I think I was -- I was dependent upon it.

Like, I'd get up in the morning and all of the cliches that go along with it: an eye-opener, a little bit of the snake that bit you, all of that. And it was, I had to have that little shot before I went on the stage. And I had a liver problem. And I almost died three years ago, 3 1/2 years ago. And good doctors and people of medicine saved me.


KING: He never had to go to Betty Ford?

A. DAVIS: No, he didn't go to Betty Ford.

KING: But he drank a lot.

A. DAVIS: He drank a lot.

KING: He had what we might say a personality that lent itself to needs.

A. DAVIS: Yes.

KING: And he had enormous needs, didn't he, Sammy?

A. DAVIS: Oh, yes.

KING: The need to be on stage, the need to please.

A. DAVIS: Well, I think, when he was on stage, he gave 110 percent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MAY 15, 1987) KING: You've worked a lot with Jerry Lewis.

S. DAVIS: Yes.

KING: And that seems like an unusual booking, only in that the two of you are such total entertainers, one is surprised. Who opens?

S. DAVIS: Well, there is no opening. We both open up together. We both hit the stage at the same time. We do about -- depending on the reaction from the audience, we do 15 to 20 minutes together.

Then I proceed to take over for 40 to 45 minutes. Jerry comes back out. I rejoin him, we do some more together, and we end together.

But the whole concept of Jerry and I working together was based upon the fact that we wanted, Larry, to do the kind of Las Vegas show business that the town was built on.


SAMMY DAVIS, JR. AND JERRY LEWIS: (SINGING) Oh, we're a couple of guys, together once again, who entertain and act insane like any grown-up man.




SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: The kind of free-form, have fun, no computerized jazz going on. But let the audience join into the fun, and thank the good Lord it worked.

And no egos, man. That was the first thing we both decided upon.


KING: We'll be back with more of Altovise Davis. Don't go away.


SAMMY DAVIS, JR: There is love. There is us. Sam. That's from Ping (ph) and from the little black Jew.


LEWIS: I want to thank the NAACP for this award.

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Put me down. Put me down. You're embarrassing.


(BEGIN VIDEO) KING: Were you ever pessimistic?

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Yeah. About three weeks in, having to play a hero, see, ...

KING: Because you were playing it pretty good. No problem.

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: No problem. Everything's going to be all right.

And suddenly you're alone, and it hits you. Then all the fears come. What if -- then I had to make decisions.

But thank God, the people around me who cared about me, who lived with me, who saw this 360 that I made in my life, you know, to such a positive point and saw this happen, who were as frustrated about it as I was -- they had to go along with the fact that, hey, this is it. This is God's will. And there's nothing you can do about it.


KING: The legacy of Sammy Davis, Jr. Arguably, although maybe it's not even arguable, the greatest entertainer since Jolson. Some say the greatest of them all.

Yet despite all this he never won an Oscar, he never won a Grammy, he never won a Tony, he never an Emmy. But he was a great actor, and a great singer, and a great performer and a great musician.

And he could play drums, and he could jump around, and he could dance with the -- how good a -- you were a dancer, right? You were a trained dancer. Sammy didn't take lessons, right?

A. DAVIS: No, he didn't.

KING: How good a dancer was he?

A. DAVIS: He said I could dance better than he, but he was a better tap dancer.


KING: You must miss dancing, right?

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Not that much.


SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I dance more now than I ...

KING: But you had that hip -- there are certain moves you can't do, right?

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Two hips.

KING: Two hips. SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I mean, same hip, two operations.

KING: Aren't there moves you can't do?


KING: You can do everything you could always do?

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Not quite as high as I used to do it. But rhythm dancing, which is what I am -- I was never a ballet-tap artist -- but rhythm dancing, no problem.


A. DAVIS: He was a good dancer. He had a wonderful sense (ph). And we looked good together, even though I was about -- he said we were the same height.

KING: You were taller.

A. DAVIS: I heard (ph) so.

KING: Him and Vegas, that was a marriage, right?

A. DAVIS: Yes.

KING: Why did he love that city so much?

A. DAVIS: He loved the city because, even after he would do two shows, do you know he would still do a third show for everyone on the Strip?

And the day he had died, it was the first time ever in the history they turned the lights out on the Strip for a minute-and-a- half. It was dark in Las Vegas, a minute-and-a-half, two minutes.

KING: Did he have any enemies?

A. DAVIS: Not that I know of. I think everybody liked him. He may have had enemies at one point, but he always bridged the gap.

I mean, it's like when he walked down with Mayor Bradley, we walked down with Martin Luther King, when there were riots or there were things.

And I was talking to Mayor (ph) Lindsey, and they both had on white shirts, walking down New York City, you know, and trying to keep peace.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE CALLER: As a black person and as a Jew, I was just wondering how you feel about comments made by Louis Farrakhan about Jews in general. I was just wondering what your response is to that, when he makes those sort of comments.

KING: Sam?

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Well, my comment is very simple. He's entitled to whatever opinions -- this is, that's one of the great things about this country.

The minister has his opinions. There's nothing that I can do save hoping by demeanor that if I would meet him, that I could change his mind only by what I feel and what comes from me, and what I am.

But to sit intellectually and try to change his mind, I think it's -- those people who have those extreme opinions, that I don't personally agree with, there's nothing that I can do about changing that.


KING: Was he embarrassed when -- that eventual pose with Richard Nixon? That famous -- it was in Miami, I remember that night ...

A. DAVIS: The infamous pose.

KING: ... that infamous hugging.

A. DAVIS: He was not embarrassed. I'll tell you why he wasn't embarrassed. He was more hurt, because what Nixon -- he voted for the man, not the politics. And Nixon did say, you cannot buy this man.

And you know Sammy is a huggy, kissy, lovey fellow.

KING: He sure is.

A. DAVIS: But likes to hug and kiss everybody.

KING: He did. So he hugged Nixon as he would hug anybody, right.

A. DAVIS: Absolutely.

KING: The "Cannonball Run" movies.

A. DAVIS: Yes.

KING: Did he have fun doing those?

A. DAVIS: Oh, he loved doing that.


SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: The thing that happened with "Cannonball" one and two was, Burt wanted to recreate what we had done in "Oceans 11." Frank, ...

KING: I love that movie.

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: ... Dean and Peter, Joey Bishop and myself. And he said, let's get some people together and have a ball. We did two of them, and they were as close to "Oceans 11" and that kind of fun ...


KING: He and Dean were partnered all the time.

A. DAVIS: Oh, him and Dean were funny. He'd (INAUDIBLE), come on Dean, we've got to go this way now. Come on, Dean, we've got to go that way ...

KING: We'll be right back with Altovise Davis, the widow of Sammy Davis, Jr. We're interlocking a lot tonight of tapes and pictures and mementos, as we look back at one of the legendary figures in the history of American show business. Don't go away.


COP IN "CANNONBALL RUN": You, shorty. Where'd you get all that jewelry?

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Why did he call me shorty?

DEAN MARTIN: Because you're small. Small. S-M-all.



SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Shucks, I wouldn't put it on unless I was good at it.




KING: Do you think you were the classic example, Sammy, of life in the fast lane?

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Yes, part of it was life in the fast lane.

KING: I mean, you tried everything, right?

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I tried it all, but I can't blame -- I don't want anyone to read the book and think that, oh, see what life in show business is like. No. That's not part of it.

Part of it is -- what they should really say is, see what an idiot is like, or was like. A man who took all the wrong streets, all the wrongs avenues, because the traces were there.

Show business escalated some of the things.

(END VIDEO) KING: We're back with Altovise Davis. What about Sammy Davis and Elvis Presley?

A. DAVIS: Boy. They liked each other. You know how Sammy imitated Elvis with the legs. They were good friends. And that day when he died, I lived not too far from his wife. I helped them pack to go and ...

KING: Priscilla?

A. DAVIS: Priscilla. And then Joe Esposito who lived across the street at the time.

KING: How did Sammy deal with that?

A. DAVIS: Very hard. Very hard. He adored Elvis.

KING: Why? What was that? They seemed so different.

A. DAVIS: It was -- they did, I know. I think he adored him only because he had a lot of chutzpah.

KING: When he and Frank and Dean went back out, the return of that great -- one of the great concert tours of all time.

A. DAVIS: Yes, it was.

KING: What was that like for him? I know Dean didn't like it, and upset Frank and quit.

A. DAVIS: Yeah. They liked it all in the beginning, because ...

KING: Were you there opening night in (INAUDIBLE)?

A. DAVIS: Yes. They liked it in the beginning, because it was exciting. Who ever would think that the three of them would get back together, you know, after being the Rat Pack and then, you know, Peter wasn't there joining them -- just the three of them.

And then, because of when Dean, of course, the unfortune of losing his son ...


KING: How's Dean doing?

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Well, Dean is doing extremely well. It's a very deep wound, because he -- all of his kids he loves, he and his wife. And they love very -- I was at the funeral. I was -- as a family member and a dear friend. It was a beautiful service.

But Dean is coping with it. He's doing extremely well. As a matter of fact, when Jerry and I closed in, at the Bali (ph) Grand in Las Vegas, Dean followed us in. And he came in a day earlier, and I talked to him. And ...

KING: Oh, he's working, then.

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: He's working. And he's -- because that's the best therapy ...

KING: Yeah.

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: ... to get back in and to work. But with the support of the family, and the following tragedy that happened -- we lost another family member -- but he and Jeanne are doing extremely well. I think God has put his arms around them both to give them the sort of mutual protection they need.


KING: He never recovered from that.

A. DAVIS: He never -- and Sammy kept talking to him, and that's when they became, I guess, closer bounded (ph).

And when he left, and that's when Sammy got Liza.



SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Don't hurt yourself, Frank.

FRANK SINATRA: I already did.



KING: When you and Frank and Liza, though, ...


KING: ... on that tour -- these are three closing acts. You had to open.

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Who cares? But there ain't no opening act, don't you understand? There ain't no opening act.

And when I say -- I say to Liza, who walks me -- every show we've done all over the world, she walks me to the beginning of the stage. She comes out of her dressing room -- and we're in and out of each other's dressing rooms all the time anyway.

Walks me to the entrance. She says, OK, go get them. I say, I'm taking no prisoners.

And when I come off, she's there waiting for me, and I go like this -- try to follow that if you can.

But that's been our running thing. Then we run in and say the same thing to Frank. KING: Frank easy to work with?

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I think so.

KING: Because he's a perfectionist.

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I think so. Sometimes you don't get the message. He won't lay it out. And the closer you are, the more love he has for you. And the more love that you mutually share, there is an assumption sometimes that you should have understood it before you understand it.


SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: (SINGING) I want to be him, but I got to be me, daring to try, to do it or die -- I've got to be me.


KING: Now, the eye.

A. DAVIS: Yeah.

KING: How did he deal with that, having one eye?

A. DAVIS: Well, he said, at first he felt deformed. He said to me, he was going to do a song with Hank -- Henry Mancini -- and Tony Curtis in San Bernardino.

And the ladies backed up off the freeway and there were three of them in Sammy's car, and hit them. Then they wanted to sue, and here's Sammy's eye is hanging out. The other guy lost all his teeth.

And Dr. Levy (ph) is the eye doctor.

KING: Saved his eye, didn't he.

A. DAVIS: Saved his eye. They had to put a fake eye. Frank is the one that told him, if you wear that patch for the rest of -- you'll always be with it, known as the guy with the patch.

KING: So he took it off.

A. DAVIS: He took it off.

KING: And all you saw was a glass eye, right?

A. DAVIS: Yes. But you couldn't tell it. I mean, it's ...

KING: They did a great job with it.

A. DAVIS: Yes.

KING: The conversion to Judaism. That happened before you, right? A. DAVIS: Yes. That happened when the eye accident -- he had always wanted mezuzahs. Eddie Cantor had given him that. And then during that accident, he has the mezuzah, and then also Jeff Chandler had given something, and he had nothing else to hold on to but that.

And it was a blessing from God, and you know how that is. It's either there or it isn't.


KING: Sammy, have you ever regretted choosing to be a Jew?

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: No, I never have. It gave me all the answers that I wanted to have, and some commitments in terms of self worth, just on the humanistic level, that I think that you're supposed to get out of a religion.

That's what religion is supposed to be about. Not that you go to temple every day or to church every day. What does it make you as a human being?

I think what I am today and where I stand, and what I would like to think I stand for, is based upon what Judaism gave me, what my family gave me, what I get from audiences.

I think it's a combination of -- it's a collage of life that makes it all work for you.


KING: Did he have a Jewish funeral?

A. DAVIS: Well, I had my rabbi, and I had the rabbi that he's got -- well, he retires this year. Then Jesse Jackson. So I was covered by all bases.

KING: Playing all the rules.

A. DAVIS: Playing all the rules.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Altovise Davis and talk, what she's going to plan to do about you knowing more about her late husband. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CALLER, WHITE PLAINS, NEW YORK: Since you're Jewish, my husband and I were wondering -- I'm Jewish myself ...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CALLER, WHITE PLAINS, NEW YORK: ... do you enjoy any traditional Jewish foods? And if so, which ones? And in your chicken soup do you prefer kreplach or matzoh ball?

(LAUGHTER) SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I love that. I prefer kreplach. And I do -- and I do enjoy certain types of foods. I like flanken, and I like basic dishes.

KING: But you're a soul man, at heart. Come on, Sammy.

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Well, there's all kinds of soul food.

KING: That's right. There's Jewish soul food.

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Absolutely. A good chicken soup is as, not only is it healthy, but you can rub it on your body and you feel good.



SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: (SINGING) Well, here I am at season's end. And you're surrounded by your friend. Oh, yes, we'll remember it well.


KING: We're back on this evening saluting a true legend. That word gets kicked around a lot, but Sammy Davis, Jr. is certainly that.

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I change my show every show, only based upon the fact that I cannot -- being in nightclubs and being in show business all those years -- I don't want to get locked into doing the same thing so it becomes by rote.

But there are certain things like "Bojangles," "Candy Man," "What Kind of Fool Am I?" -- the things that made me musically popular through the years that you have to do.

What I try to do then is, occasionally I'll put in a thing by Huey Lewis that I've heard. But I don't want to portray something that I'm not any more. I tried that for many years, you know, and tried being, you know, tried to act at my age.

KING: Yeah.

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Try to act your age, instead of trying to act like you're 19.

KING: You have to do "Candy Man."

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: Oh, of course.

SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: (SINGING) Who can take tomorrow, put it in a dream, separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream? Candy Man, Candy Man can.


KING: But that song was incredible for him, right. A. DAVIS: Yes, it was.

KING: It was the number one song in America in 1972.

A. DAVIS: That's correct.

KING: He knew he was loved, didn't he?

A. DAVIS: He never ...

KING: Or did he always question it?

A. DAVIS: He always questioned it. He always questioned it. He knew I loved him, but he always questioned the people that he loved, whether it was really real.


SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: I never knew that many people loved me. It's a hell of a way to find out. But it's almost evened (ph) up (ph), because to find out people care that much about you, Larry ...


A. DAVIS: When things happen, you know, it's -- you don't know the friends who were there when you were up, they were always there.

When he was gone, I didn't know really who my friends were. I felt alone, lost, scared.

KING: All right. So we're going to have a mini -- we're looking at a mini-series, ...

A. DAVIS: Correct.

KING: ... which would be the life of Sammy Davis.

A. DAVIS: Sammy Davis.

KING: And, what about the musical?

A. DAVIS: The musical ...

KING: A Broadway musical about him.

A. DAVIS: ... about him and his life. And of course, Quincy Jones wants to do that. The other thing -- let's see, what else could there be?

The music, ...

KING: Well, are we going to ...

A. DAVIS: ... the old masters being redone ...

KING: Oh, yeah. A. DAVIS: ... with new people.

KING: How many -- he did a lot of records.

A. DAVIS: Right. So I just found the old masters, and so that's going to be remixed with contemporary artists.

And the other thing is at the slot machines, which is the latest -- will be the -- let's get this right -- will be in the casinos. It'll be online for the first time on the Internet.

And it's all over the Internet, which will be very interesting.

KING: So you could play the slots on the Internet.

A. DAVIS: On the Internet.

KING: And they will be in casinos, too?

A. DAVIS: Yes.

KING: Do you ever look at -- with Sammy and Dean and Frank -- that an era passed? You know, that that's ...

A. DAVIS: That era ...

KING: ... you're not going to have that kind of show business ever again.

A. DAVIS: Ever again. I look at it with nostalgia. I look at it, heart-rendering (ph), and I really try and remember the times being with them, the times cajoling and laughing and being with Frank and Dean, and being with Sammy and hearing how they joked and how they reminisced.

And I try and write that down, because some of it was so much fun.

KING: Thank you, Altovise.

A. DAVIS: Thank you, so much.

KING: Good luck with everything.

A. DAVIS: Thank you.

KING: Altovise Davis. I consider it an honor to just know him.

The widow of Sammy Davis, Jr. We hope you enjoyed tonight's edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Mr. Bojangles, you are not forgotten. Good night.


SAMMY DAVIS, JR.: (SINGING) I knew a man, Bojangles, and he danced for you in worn out shoes. Silver hair, ragged shirt, baggy pants. He would do the old soft shoe. He could jump so high, jump so high. And then he'd lightly touch down ...






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