Saturday, November 22, 2008

Deconstructing Sammy: Music, Money, Madness, and the Mob by Matt Birkbeck

Sammy was a massive talent, regarded by many as among the greatest entertainers ever. He could do it all--sing, dance, act, play several instruments and he broke down many barriers for black entertainers and the perceptions of white America. Offstage, he didn't know how to live. In a futile effort to make everyone love him, Sammy made terrible decisions, both in business and his personal life and burned most every bridge, including with Sinatra.

This disturbing look at Sam's later life, long after the spotlights had dimmed, shows how he descended into drug abuse and depression. After his death in 1990, Sammy Davis, Jr. owed the largest single tax debt to the IRS in history. His family was divided, his estate insolvent and the rights to his music, image, even his name, was owned by others.

Birkbeck's book chronicles the above-and-beyond efforts of Albert "Sonny" Murray, a former federal prosecutor, who spent years trying to untangle the train wreck that was Sammy's estate. Murray also tries to help Sammy's last wife, Altovise, a drunken golddigger who wanted her privileged life back but lacked the personal mettle to do the hard work of recovery. Altovise is both tragic and unforgivable. Sonny is the exact opposite; a Job-like man who sacrificed his personal life and earnings to try to restore Sammy's name. A page-turner but sadder than sad.

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