What Sammy Davis Jr. Taught Me About Leaving A Legacy


Photo by Alan Light

Sammy Davis Jr. was born December 8, 1925.

He began his career at the age of 3; performing with his father in vaudeville all across the country. After serving in WWII, he returned to show biz and performed widely in the nightclub scene of the 1940’s and 50’s. In 1960, he appeared in the first Rat Pack film, Ocean’s 11 and in 1966 started his own TV variety show, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show.

His career slowed in the late 60’s, but in 1972 he had a hit record, “The Candy Man,” which revitalized his career and re- established him as one of the supreme entertainers in Las Vegas, earning him the nickname, “Mister Show Business.”   

His life came to an end May 16, 1990.

He died of throat cancer.

What Sammy Davis Jr. taught me about leaving a legacy wasn’t so much about what he did during his life, but what he did before his death.

Gregory_HinesGregory Hines, in his own right a world class entertainer, came to see his friend and mentor just days before his death.

As Mr. Hines would later tell the story, after spending a brief time together, he said his goodbye and headed to the door, then turned to look back at Sammy for the last time . . .

             and that’s when the unexpected happened.

Sammy Davis (who couldn’t speak because of his throat cancer) picked up an imaginary ball and threw it to Gregory Hines. Gregory caught it, tucked it under his arm, gave Sammy a smile and walked out of the room.

What does this story have to do with leaving a legacy? EVERYTHING!

The kind of life we build and the people we pass it on to – will determine the legacy we leave. It’s really that simple. (It’s not necessarily that easy but it really is that simple.)

So how about you?

What kind of life are you building and who are you passing it on to? How you answer that question will determine your legacy. Let’s leave a good one.

Living For A Legacy That Counts
Ken L Roberts

P.S. For some heart-warming entertainment, watch this clip of Gregory Hines paying tribute to Sammy Davis Jr. by first tap dancing for him and then tap dancing with him. It’s worth the watch.

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6 thoughts on “What Sammy Davis Jr. Taught Me About Leaving A Legacy

  1. Very cool video, Ken! The passing of the baton…I remember my father saying to me, "It's up to you to carry on now." He was three weeks or so from the end of his life. His imperfect yet committed life to the ministry is never far from my thoughts and heart. In many ways, he lives on in me. And yes, I am now the carrier of the legacy into the future. I pray to continue to pass the baton forward with those my life touches every day. It is a privilege…God bless, B

  2. Pastor Ken, the challenges that you give us are always spot on to obtain the best in our christian walk as well as the perception of how others see us. There should be no difference. The legacy we live should be just that, the way we lived our life! Thank you for this blog! I love reading it. Bless you!

  3. Long after I am gone, what I have taught my children (and others) is all that will be left of me. There are positive and negative legacies. In Point to Reading, I focus on the Legacy of Literacy. Parents who value reading and learning pass their love of reading to their children, who pass it their children. Kids copy what they see their parents do, and pay little attention to what we say.

    The power of legacy is evident in our schools and students. Some people complain that the rich can afford better schools. So we tax the rich, giving money to the poor districts in the belief that money will buy a better education. But, it is not money that begets a good education, it is a good education that begets money.

    An overwhelming number of families are not reading families. The parents tell their children how important it is to learn to read so they do well in school, but those same parents do not read. The message the child gets: "Reading is good for children, but adults don't need it." When that child becomes an adult and leaves school, he never picks up another book. And the cycle continues.

    We don't need to worry about legacy. Legacy happens. What we do and how we live is what will be copied and passed to the next generation.

  4. Henry – Skinner Larson

    Thanks so much for the comment.

    I certainly agree with you about education and passing on the love of learning and the love of reading. It's the foundation for a fruitful and meaningful life.

    Ken L Roberts

  5. Thank you so much, Ken, for your wise words. And really not least for that great clip from an old tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr. I think I first saw it on Danish tv not so very long before he died. And I remember it to this day as a very beautiful moment and an amazing feat by Mr. Davis. So what a thrill to actually see it again!