Sammy Davis Jr. described as near death

By VERNON SCOTT UPI Hollywood Reporter

LOS ANGELES -- Sammy Davis Jr. lay near death from the ravages of throat cancer in his Hollywood Hills home Saturday, according to close personal friends.

'We're going to lose him,' said entertainer Jerry Lewis, who visited the 64-year-old Davis three weeks ago and has been in daily contact with Davis's family.


'It's a matter of days or perhaps hours,' Lewis said in an interview.

Since his release from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles six weeks ago, Davis's condition has worsened steadily, confining him to his bed, said another friend who asked not to be identified.

The pencil-thin song-and-dance man, whose career spanned vaudeville, Broadway, movies and TV, has wasted away to 60 or 70 pounds and sleeps most of the time. His wife, Altovise, remains close to his bedside.

'It's very, very sad,' said Susan Reynolds, the entertainer's publicist. 'Sammy is a terribly sick man. We don't know what more can be done.'


Earlier this week Davis's daughter, Tracy, brought her 3-week-old daughter to see her terminally ill grandfather, which brought a smile to his face, friends of the entertainer reported.

Such other friends as Frank Sinatra and actor Roger Moore also have visited their stricken friend.

Actress Shirley MacLaine, a longtime friend and the only female member of the early 1960s clan that included Davis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, visited Davis Tuesday.

The visit by Jerry Lewis came three weeks ago after he completed a concert tour.

'For the last seven months I've telephoned and talked to all the people around Sammy, getting reports,' Lewis said, 'but he delayed my visit. He didn't want me to see him in this condition.'

'Altovise said Sammy told her: 'When I think I'm going, I'll call Jerry and Frank and tell them to come.' So when I got the call from Altovise three weeks ago I felt as if the roof had fallen in.'

Lewis said he wept after seeing Davis, who worked on the comedian's national multiple sclerosis telethon last year.

'You see, Sammy did the telethon last September knowing what his prognosis was. He knew he had cancer but he was on the air for 24 hours with the New York section of the show. But he didn't tell me about his condition. He didn't want to upset me.


'I am afraid we are about to lose a wonderful man and a great entertainer. Sammy is a treasure,' Lewis said.

Another entertainment source said Davis was being fed intravenously and has been able to recognize visitors.

He recently received a white robe by California designer Bill Whitten with the embroidered signatures of more than 100 entertainers, and the gift brought a smile, the source said.

Davis -- an actor, singer, dancer, musician, mimic, comedian, and star of Broadway, Hollywood and Las Vegas -- was diagnosed as having throat cancer in the fall of 1989.

He began treatments at a Los Angeles hospital but kept up hope that he could continue with his career.

'I've undergone treatments and my doctor says it'll be a couple of months recovery and then I'll be back out there screaming and yelling,' Davis said during a backstage interview just before a dazzling array of Hollywood stars on Nov. 14, 1989, celebrated his 60th anniversary in show business.

'I've had the pleasure of working with real giants in this industry,' Davis said. 'It's amazing to know that you're a part of the mutual admiration society that includes talents like Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.'


Jackson, Sinatra and Martin were among dozens of stars who turned out for the gala tribute held at the Shrine Auditorium to benefit the United Negro College Fund, a charity of which Davis is the all-time largest single contributor.

A versatile performer who described himself as 'a one-eyed Jewish Negro,' Davis literally was born into show business. The son of vaudeville dancers Elvina and Sammy Davis, he toddled onto a stage in Columbus, Ohio, when he was 18 months old.

His surprise walk-on fouled up his parents' dance number, but brought down the house.

On Nov. 11, 1954, Davis was seriously injured in a near-fatal traffic accident near San Bernardino, Calif., while en route from a club date in Las Vegas to Los Angeles, where he was to record the title song for the movie, 'Six Bridges to Cross.'

The accident cost Davis his left eye, but his courage brought sympathetic response from his fans and friends in the entertainment world, who turned out to cheer his comeback at Ciro's in Hollywood.

He was the first black performer to star in his own hourlong variety program, 'The Sammy Davis Jr. Show,' which ran for 13 weeks on NBC-TV.


His highly publicized marriage to Swedish actress Mai Britt was one of Hollywood's first interracial marriages. It ended in divorce after eight years in 1968.

His first marriage, to singer Loray White, ended in divorce after nine months in 1958. He married Altovise Gore, lead dancer in his nightclub act, on May 11, 1970.

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