Sammy Davis Jr. Continued Performing After a Fiery Gun Mishap Onstage

Sammy Davis Jr. was a dedicated member of the Rat Pack who showcased his talent through song, dance, and acting. He was so dedicated to his craft that he was willing to continue performing through a disaster. On one occasion, he accidentally fired his gun, which he used in his act, while onstage. His dedicated professionalism meant that the show didn’t end in chaos.

A black and white picture of Sammy Davis Jr. wearing a shirt and tie and holding a cigarette.
Sammy Davis Jr. | Don Smith/Radio Times via Getty Images

Sammy Davis Jr. was a dedicated artist

Davis began performing with his father and uncle in the Will Mastin Trio at the age of three. By the time he was seven, he’d picked up his first onscreen role in the film Rufus Jones for President. As he continued to advance in his career, he befriended Frank Sinatra and would eventually join the Sinatra-led Rat Pack.

“He was the best of us, no question,” Frank Sinatra said, per The Rake. “It was a generous God who gave him to us.”

Sammy Davis Jr. leans on a chair wearing a white shirt and watch.
Sammy Davis Jr. | John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Davis was a consummate professional and loved what he did. He saw performing as his life’s purpose.

“This is what I want on my tombstone: ‘Sammy Davis Jr., the date, and underneath, one word — entertainer,’” he once said. “That’s all, because that’s what I am, man.”

He accidentally fired a gun while performing

Davis proved his dedication to his craft while performing at the Chi-Chi Theater in Palm Springs. His performances could stretch three and a half hours — an accomplishment in and of itself. He neared the end of his performance and prepared to head offstage. As the grand finale to his shows, Davis often pulled a .45-caliber pistol loaded with blanks and fired at the crowd. The rapid pull-and-fire was well-practiced and impressive. He was thought to be one of the fastest guns in Hollywood at the time.

On this occasion, however, the pistol was already cocked. When Davis grabbed it, powder from the blank shot through the holster and onto his leg. As smoke rose, a five-inch circle on his leg began to burn. Some audience members screamed, but Davis continued to dance.

“Go get a doctor, go get a doctor,” he whispered to someone offstage, per the Desert Times. Still, he didn’t stop his act and ended the performance as planned.

“Sammy Davis Jr. was the Michael Jordan of entertainment,” musician and politician Jerry Butler said, per The Buffalo News. “I’ve never seen anyone with so much talent as he possessed.”

Sammy Davis Jr.’s pistol was turned in at a gun buyback program

The gun that played such a key role in Davis’ act made a surprising reappearance in 2016, 26 years after Davis’ death. The city of Los Angeles hosted a gun buyback program in exchange for grocery store gift cards. Per the LA Times, one of the 791 collected guns was registered to Davis.

The program is anonymous, so there are no details about who returned the gun. Typically, though, 1911 .45-caliber pistols like Davis’ are worth at least $350.

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