Sammy Davis Jr. mourned by celebrities, politicians


LOS ANGELES -- In one of Hollywood's most lavish funerals, Sammy Davis Jr. was eulogized as 'the greatest entertainer who ever lived' and a quintessential showman who blazed the way for other black performers.

The ceremonies, open to the public, evoked both tears and laughter from those inside the hall and thousands more who gathered outside under a brilliant sky.


An estimated 6,000 people gathered for Friday's service, officials said. The California Highway Patrol said traffic was backed up for miles as mourners made their way to the ceremonies.

'To love Sammy was to love black and white, black and Jew, and to embrace the human family,' the Rev. Jesse Jackson said to some 1,500 mourners jammed into the sanctuary at Forest Lawn Memorial Park's Hall of Liberty.

'Sammy was a crossroads figure who almost single-handedly made a revolution in this business,' said Lerone Bennett, a longtime friend and one of several to eulogize Davis.


Some of Hollywood's biggest names turned out to pay their last respects to Davis, who died early Wednesday of throat cancer.

Those in attendance included Stevie Wonder, Ben Vereen, Robert Guillaume, Milton Berle, Angie Dickinson, Ricardo Montalban, Dick Gregory, Little Richard, Berry Gordy, Lionel Ritchie, Robert Wagner, Jill St. John, Robert Culp and Hugh Hefner.

Honorary pallbearers included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Michael Jackson, and Bill Cosby, while family members and other close friends were the actual pallbearers.

Said Bennett, 'He was an American original. ... He was one of the last great exponents of a disappearing art.

'He told me once, 'The world doesn't owe me anything, because I did it myself.''

The lights on the Las Vegas Strip were to be turned off for 10 minutes at 9 p.m. Friday in a tribute to the performer.

California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown said, 'Sammy blazed the way. The Cos (Bill Cosby) wouldn't have been the Cos if Sammy had not been Sammy.

'This man became an institution,' Brown said. 'When you say the word 'Sammy,'you don't mean anyone else. He was simply the greatest entertainer who ever lived.'

The memorial began with a prayer by Rabbi Allen Freehling, followed by a recording of Davis's rendition of 'I've Gotta Be Me' that was broadcast over a loudspeaker. Tears streaked the faces of those in the audience, which gave a standing ovation at the conclusion of the song.


At the end of the service, the mourners grew quiet as Davis's recording, 'Mr. Bojangles,' was played.

Gregory Hines' voice cracked and he repeatedly wiped away his tears as he recalled meeting Davis for the first time, when he was 7 in 1956, at Harlem's Apollo Theater.

'He was so relaxed and ... winked at me,' said Hines, who appeared in the movie'Tap' with Davis last year.

'I have a very hard time with celebrating and feeling good right now,' Hines told the mourners. 'I know that's what we should be doing, but for me it's just not possible. I will miss him so much.'

Hines said Davis 'literally could do everything and he just looked so good ... I could only tap.'

The reed-thin singer-dancer-actor died in his sleep with his wife and children at his bedside. He was 64, and had been diagnosed as having cancer about eight months ago.

Friday's ceremony began an hour late due to the large numbers in attendence. Traffic on a nearby freeway was backed up about 8 miles. At least 500 cars participated in the procession from the memorial to the gravesite.

After his death, Martin, who along with Davis, Sinatra, Joey Bishop, Shirley MacLaine and Peter Lawford formed Hollywood's fast-living 'Rat Pack' in the 1960s, called him a great entertainer and 'an even greater friend, not only to me, but to everyone whose life he touched.'


Davis, whose career spanned six decades, had been confined to bed as his condition worsened after his release six weeks ago from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Death came five days after the 20th anniversary of his marriage to his third wife, Altovise. In her brief remarks at Friday's memorial, she fought to choke back her tears as she thanked his fans and friends for their support.

Billed as 'Mr. Entertainment,' Davis was 4 when he began a vaudeville career that would bring him worldwide stardom. He never went to school, spending his childhood touring a segregated nation with his father and uncle, Will Matsin.

The entertainer, who once described himself as a 'little, one-eyed, Jewish colored guy,' worked for civil rights and was the all-time single greatest contributor to the United Negro College Fund.

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