Sightings of Sammy

In response to “What made Sammy run?,” Power Line readers continue to forward their recollections of encounters with Sammy Davis. Reader Jud Walker initially responded with “The staging of The Hug.” Now Brian Adams writes:

I worked on stage behind Sammy Davis, Jr. (and many others) as a trombonist in the Reno/Tahoe showrooms from 1974 to 1988. I was a mere 19 years old when I first played Sammy’s show, a full generation younger than nearly everyone else in the band. It was my very first gig in the Nevada showrooms, and I wasn’t even old enough to be in the casino or drink at the bar. Sammy was far and away the musicians’ favorite singer to work behind.
When I first started working with him in ’74, he was still very much a drug and alcohol abuser, and in fact he did not really go mostly “straight”, from what I could see, until the mid ’80s, after he had aged and had some health scares. There was an inside joke going around backstage about how Sammy was a special adviser to the President concerning drug abuse while all the time he was still a heavy and obvious cocaine user. I recall a public service ad on TV that Sammy did.
There was one incident in the ’70s, when Sammy came onstage and couldn’t stop giggling. He sang one or two songs, and kept apologizing to the audience, but he simply couldn’t perform.
Finally he said sorry for the short show, and goodnight everyone.
After the curtain closed and he scurried off, we muscians all sat around looked at each other and shrugging. Later, Sammy came into the musicians’ dressing room, closed the door, and confided to those few present that a friend had spiked his drink with LSD, and he had started to “come on” during the show! Luckily he realized what was happening and didn’t freaked out, but he couldn’t stop laughing and had to abort the show. We all had a laugh about it, but I remember thinking at the time it was ironic since Sammy was involved with this Presidential anti-drug abuse effort.
Eventually he discarded the stretchy jump suits and donned Calvin Klein suits, saying that his wife Altovis had convinced him it was time to start acting “like a mensch.” He said on stage that he had given up most of his bad vices, but one thing he never could do was stop smoking, and of course throat cancer was what eventually killed him.
Sammy also used to allude to the Nixon hug in his show: “I suppose you’re all wondering what I’m going to do up here tonight. You’re probably thinking I hope he don’t run down here and hug *me*.” It always got a laugh, and everyone knew exactly what he was referring to.

In the case of Bradley Cavedo, my post dredged up a recollection of his previously forgotten encounter:

Reading about Sammy Davis hugging Nixon brought back “suppressed memories” for me. Although I had long since forgotten it, I was there when it happened, too. I was a [a member of Young Voters for the President], even though I was only 17 in August 1972, but I was in Miami that convention week. My parents saw me a couple times on network TV doing the grunt work we had been brought there to do.
I knew I had met Mr. Davis that week, but had forgotten I was at that same concert when the Hug happened. (I met a lot of actors that week, including Heston.) In fact, I had long since forgotten that it happened in Miami. Such a big deal has been made of it, I assumed it happened at the White House.
I was in the audience at that concert when Nixon came out, and Davis was there. The Hug happened so fast, after something Nixon had said about Sammy, in praise of him, that I think a lot of people in the audience may have missed. A roar when up from the crowd, but if you were looking away and then turned to look at the stage at the roar, you would have already missed.
The photograph makes it look like Sammy just held on for an hour or so. No. It was a spontaneous gesture that lasted one second. And Nixon laughed that the crowd then laughed.
And now we know the rest of the story, from [Jud Walker]: Sammy was drunk.
Later in the week, I passed Mr. Davis in the convention hall under the grandstands. I yelled “Sammy” and reached out, and we hugged each other!! Sammy just beamed and hugged me and said, “how you doin’ brother.” I didn’t forget about that over the years, but now I remember that the reason I did it is because of what had happened at the concert with Nixon, which I had forgotten about.


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