The Sammy Davis Jr. Story

The Sammy Davis Jr. Story

The Golden Steer Steakhouse is well known for its famous and infamous patrons who dined at the establishment throughout the years. If only the walls could talk and share their stories. Even today, customers come in and share their favorite memories of dining with the likes of Elvis Presley. One such iconic celebrity who graced the halls was Sammy Davis Jr., a legend and beloved figure in Las Vegas. 

Sammy Davis Junior was a world renowned actor, comedian, singer, and dancer. He is also remembered for being part of the legendary Rat Pack, which included Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. 

On top of releasing multiple albums, he was nominated for a Record of the Year Grammy for the song “What Kind of Fool Am I?”, and gave a Tony Award-nominated performance in the 1964 musical Golden Boy, among countless other musical accomplishments. His talents spread to television shows as well, as he hosted multiple shows that included The Sammy Davis Jr. Show (1966) and Sammy and Company (1975-77), and was in countless films.

Davis was a jack of all trades when it came to show business, and would often start his shows by tap dancing, would further indulge the audience with singing, playing the trumpet, and impressions. Many who did lights for his performances couldn’t keep up if they hadn’t worked with him before, and he often needed a specialist in his spotlight tower. His performances were complex, dynamic, and unique.

A Tony-nominated performer and passionate fighter for the civil rights movement he refused to appear in any clubs that had racial segregation. This led to the integration of several venues in Miami Beach and Las Vegas. 

His Life

Davis was born on December 8, 1925 in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. He went to live with his father, an entertainer, at a very young age. Soon after the Will Mastin Trio was born when he started touring and performing with his father and “uncle.” He never received a formal education, but he flourished as an artist - becoming an accomplished dancer, singer, comedian, and was skilled in multiple instruments.

His show business days were halted when he was drafted into the army in 1943 during World War II. Davis resumed performing as the star act with the Will Mastin Trio after the war. When the Will Mastin Trio opened for Frank Sinatra at the Capitol Theatre in New York in 1947, his career and fame grew in leaps and bounds.

Infact, Davis owed most of his career to Frank Sinatra, who was a lifelong friend and fought with Davis to break the bounds of racism, especially in Las Vegas. Sinatra and Davis had a special bond from the moment they met. 

By 1960, Davis was a star. He was a member of the legendary Rat Pack, and he appeared in films with the Pack members, including Ocean’s 11 (1960), Sergeants 3 (1962), and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), as well as many without them. 

Besides refusing to perform at segregated clubs, Davis further battled against racism and became active in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, and was in the 1963 March on Washington. In one of his three marriages he married the Swedish actress May Britt and challenged bigotry, as interracial marriages were forbidden by law at the time in 31 states.

After he began a tour with Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli in the late ‘80s, his health began to decline, and a tumor was discovered in his throat. His final performance was at Harrah’s casino in Lake Tahoe. Although he underwent treatment, he passed away at age 64 on May 16, 1990 in his home in Beverly Hills, California. 

Before he died, the legend was honored  in a February television tribute by his peers.

The Legend Lives on at the Steer

Davis is  not just an iconic figure from Vegas’s past, but also at the Golden Steer Steakhouse. 

In the 60’s, African-Americans were not allowed to dine in hotels, even if they were performers. The Golden Steer Steakhouse (then located between the Moulin Rouge, Las Vegas’s first desegregated hotel and casino, and the Sands Hotel and Casino) wholeheartedly welcomed Davis, who soon became a loyal patron. 

Over time, Davis became a staple at the Golden Steer Steakhouse, the Rat Pack (which included Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawson, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Joey Bishop) dined at the Steer as well  - in support of Sammy.

Davis and Sinatra commandeered a section of the restaurant, which kicked off naming the booths in their honor. Today, The Golden Steer Steakhouse has a section of the restaurant dedicated to them. Booth #20 is dedicated to Davis, booth #21 to Martin, and booth #22 to Sinatra, so that the memory of these legends and loyal patrons lives on inside the Golden Steer Steakhouse.