Sammy Davis Jr. died in Beverly Hills at age 64. The cause of death was complications from throat cancer. Muppet master Jim Henson was just 53 when he died in New York City from a Group A streptococcal bacteria.
Sammy Davis Jr. was one of the most complete performers who ever took the stage. Davis could sing, dance, act, make you laugh, and play musical instruments. He began his career as a young child in a song and dance team alongside his father (Sammy Davis Sr. of course) and Will Mastin. As The Will Mastin Trio they toured the country for decades before Davis Jr. became a break out star.
In addition to numerous guest appearances on TV, Sammy had two series of his own. “The Sammy Davis Jr. Show” ran from January 1966 through April of that same year. I believe I attended one of the last episodes of this series, which was taped at the NBC studio in Brooklyn. I never knew it was a series. I thought it was a TV special. What would I know? I was 5 years old. What I do know, and do remember, is that I sat in the audience of a show starring Sammy Davis Jr. and guest Art Carney, which was taped in that studio. According to IMDb, Carney was a guest on the April 15, 1966 episode of this series.
Sammy’s other well-known foray into series television was the syndicated “Sammy & Company.” This 90-minute talk/variety show featured guest appearances and performances from many of Sammy’s show biz friends. The series, with radio’s William B. Williams as the announcer, was produced for 2 years, 1975-1977.
Jim Henson was just 17 years old when he first performed with puppets on local television. The following year, in 1955, he got his own show on Washington, DC’s WRC, “Sam and Friends.” Though the show was only five minutes long it introduced Jim Henson’s muppets to TV audiences… And among those muppets was an early version of Kermit the Frog (though he was not yet a frog).
“Sam and Friends” ran for more than 5 years. During that time Henson’s creations started making TV commercials and appearances on national TV shows. In 1969 he brought his muppets to the new PBS children’s series “Sesame Street” where they are still going strong 21 years after Henson’s death.
Many will forget that Jim Henson created a group of alien muppets that appeared each week during the premiere season of “Saturday Night Live.” One year later “The Muppet Show” began a very successful run in syndication that lasted 5 seasons. Kermit the Frog was even a guest-host on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1979.
Jim Henson and his family of muppets may have touched your life when you were a child, maybe not until you were an adult… but Jim Henson has left his imprint in our lives.
How sad that two profoundly talented men were taken from us on the same day, but the world is a richer place because they were here.