Sammy Davis Jr. Always Held a Grudge Against John F. Kennedy

Sometimes, a small group of people are able to have an outsized influence on the world around them, and that was certainly the case for the so-called Rat Pack. This was the name for a group of five men whose cultural impact has become the stuff of legends. Among them was Sammy Davis Jr., a man who earned the nickname “Mr. Show Business” and jokingly referred to himself as “the only Black, Puerto Rican, one-eyed, Jewish entertainer in the world.” 

While Davis’ career continues to send out ripples into the modern entertainment landscape, his relationships during his own lifetime were often tumultuous, and that includes a grudge he held against President John F. Kennedy. 

Sammy Davis Jr. visiting the grave of John F. Kennedy
Sammy Davis Jr. visits the grave of John F. Kennedy | Leonard Mccombe/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Sammy Davis Jr. was a member of the famed Rat Pack 

The name Rat Pack referred to a group of five entertainers who had a tremendous impact on pop culture throughout the ’50s and ’60s. As Biography.com explains, the moniker — which the group never used for themselves but stuck from the media — consisted of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop.

Together, the five entertainers had an especially important impact on Las Vegas, which was experiencing a post-World War II boom. A-list stars, especially the men of the Rat Pack, helped send tourists flocking into the city, providing the support for new hotels and resorts popping up along The Strip.

When the film Oceans 11 premiered in 1960, it starred all five Rat Pack members and portrayed a glamorized version of Las Vegas that helped seal the new image of the glitzy city. 

A life full of achievement

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Born in Harlem to a dancer and vaudeville star, Sammy Davis Jr. had entertainment in his blood, and it showed. Davis’ talent seemed to have no end as he could sing, dance, act, and play several instruments.

His acting range is on full display with a look at his filmography on IMDb. His body of work includes dramatic musicals like Porgy and Bess as well as thrilling heist films like Oceans 11. He was well-known for his stand-up comedy routines and brought that funny tone into comedies like Robin and the 7 Hoods

His fame also gave him guest appearances on popular shows like I Dream of Jeannie, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Mod Squad

Davis continued to have an active career in television and film right up until his 1990 death at the age of 64. His later works include The Cannonball Run and its sequel and Cracking Up. He also had several television guest appearances throughout the ’80s including on The Jeffersons and The Cosby Show

Sammy Davis Jr. held a grudge against John F. Kennedy

Clearly, Davis rubbed elbows with people in high places. In addition to his association with the other members of the Rat Pack, he had plenty of famous friends — including Michael Jackson

One influential person that was not counted among Davis’ close confidants was John F. Kennedy. While the former President enjoyed a close relationship with fellow Rat Pack member Frank Sinatra, he and Davis did not get along. 

The reason for Davis’ dislike of Kennedy is rooted in Kennedy’s inauguration celebration. Davis, who had angered racists by marrying a white woman, was asked not to participate.

Kennedy was worried that the sight of Davis alongside his wife May Britt would anger Southerners. As Biography.com reports, some amends were later made when Davis was honored by the Kennedy Center in 1987, but of course, it was far too late for any reconciliation with Kennedy himself.