All-round talent Sammy Davis Jr. is remembered for being one of the greatest entertainers of his generation. When he lost an eye it became a distinctive part of his story, but how did he lose it?
Sammy Davis Jr. lost his left eye following a car crash on Route 66, in which he drove his vehicle into a stopped car. After being transferred to hospital, the surgeon assessed that the eye would need to be removed given the extensive damage, and Davis remained in hospital to recover for just over a week.
Read on to learn more about the accident that lost Davis his eye and changed his life.
Dalliance with Death
It was on the Cajon Pass on Route 66 that the entertainer suffered his devastating eye injury in the early hours of November 19, 1954. He was heading to Los Angeles from Las Vegas for a recording session in Hollywood with two women in the car, when he drove his car into another vehicle.
The circumstances surrounding the crash are a little unclear, as some reported that the other car was backing out of a driveway whilst others suggest the car was stopped in preparation for making a turn.
Looking back on the accident Davis reportedly said, “I had no control”, adding “I was just there, totally consumed by it, unable to believe I was really in an automobile crash.”
Patients were speedily discharged in the community hospital to clear space for the star and the city’s eye surgeon assessed the damage. He concluded that the eye would have to be removed and surgery commenced.
Celebrity support for Davis came in droves, perhaps most notably in the form of Frank Sinatra who insisted that Davis recover at his house in Palm Springs upon his discharge from hospital, which he did.
Following the incident, Davis wore a silk patch over his eye for a while, before being fitted for a glass eye.
The crash changed Davis’ life in a number of ways, and famously heralded his conversion to Judaism. As the story goes, Davis had been given a mezuzah by his friend and comedian Eddie Cantor and used to wear it around his neck as a lucky charm.
However he had forgotten to wear it the night of the crash and this didn’t go unnoticed by Davis. What’s more, Cantor visited Davis in hospital where they discussed the similar struggles and hardships experienced by Jewish people and African Americans.
Davis ultimately converted in 1961, although he remained private about his faith.
Paying it Back
After receiving care at the hospital for his car accident injuries, Davis said he would help raise funds for the hospital, although the hospital staff weren’t expecting him to follow through on his promise.
Nevertheless, Davis did exactly that and returned once the new community hospital was built to put on a star-studded benefit concert. It was held in the Swing Auditorium of the National Orange Show in San Bernardino, which had a capacity of 7,500.
His show completely sold out, unsurprisingly given that Davis brought a whole host of performers to complete his show line-up, including none other than Judy Garland.
With an audience packed full of Hollywood’s rich and famous and a stellar line-up of performers, including Davis himself, the event raised $20,000 for the hospital and Davis was awarded a gift from the hospital onstage to recognize his support.
Sammy’s philanthropy didn’t end there, and he was known for giving generously to further various causes.
Watch Sammy Davis Jr. sing his hit ‘The Candy Man’ in the YouTube video below.