Why Sammy Davis Jr. Left the Church of Satan

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Was Sammy Davis Jr. a member of the Church of Satan? It’s widely known that he converted to Judaism after the auto accident that took his eye, but this week, a listener sent us an article about Sammy Davis Jr. the Satanist. In this episode, we talk about the life of this multi-faceted entertainer and the claim in question. Then we chat with Comedian and Producer of CBus Comedy, Lisa Berry!

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Sammy Davis Junior never knew a life outside of show business. As a child, he performed with his father, Sammy Sr. in the Will Mastin Trio. They performed from the 1920s all the way to the 1960s, with Sammy Jr. joining them from the age of 3 in 1928. He was in his first film at age 7. By the time he was 27, he was a huge sensation all over America. He had starred on Broadway and the nation knew him as a singer,  dancer and actor extraordinaire. His widespread appeal broke through the color barrier in America – they called him “Mr. Showbusiness.” Just as he was becoming a huge sensation, Sammy Jr. lost his eye in a car accident. Some credit Frank Sinatra as being the force that helped him retain the momentum of his career as he was invited to be part of the group that became known as the rat pack. Frank was like a big brother to Sammy. One time when a theatre barred Davis from performing, Sinatra tore up his contract and refused to perform. At the time the Rat Pack was Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, And Sammy Davis Jr.. Frank wanted to name the group “The Klan,” but Sammy opposed for obvious reasons. Then Frank had the idea of calling them “The Summit.” During an all-night poker game, Actress Angie Dickinson mentioned to the men, “You look like a pack of rats.” The name stuck and the men went on to be associated with each other, whether it be live performances at The Sands in Las Vegas, or the several movies they filmed together like Oceans 11, Sargeants 3 and Robin and the 7 Hoods.

If you don’t know anything about Sammy Davis Junior, you probably know the few bullet points that he himself put into this famous quote: “I’m the only black, Puerto Rican, one-eyed, Jewish entertainer in the world.” Sammy had found comfort in Judaism during his recovery from the auto accident. He was born to a Catholic mother and Baptist father, but found a connection with Judaism. He saw the parallels between black Americans and the Jewish people in their persecution and struggle. Davis himself had faced his share of struggle – even before the accident. He lived in an America that was still very racially segregated. He got death threats for being in a relationship with Kim Novak, a white actress. He was barred from going to some of the same places as the other Rat Pack members, had to stay in a different section of the hotel, was denied opportunities and saw many of the same issues as other black Americans in the 1950s and 60s. He had met a Jewish Chaplain while recovering from the car accident in San Bernardino Hospital and became intrigued. He converted and studied with Rabbi Max Nussbaum at Temple Israel in Hollywood.

So how in the world did he ever come to Satanism? I mean, is this headline even true?

Okay at some point we need to talk about what exactly the Church of Satan is. It isn’t at all what you think it is.

It’s not people in black robes conducting blood sacrifices and drinking goat’s blood while listening to heavy metal music. It’s mostly a humanist group. It has nothing to do with promoting “evil” and it was started as a counterculture group in the 1960s by Anton LaVey. Now LaVey had studied ritual magic and occult type beliefs in his life, and he did incorporate some of that into The Church of Satan, but mostly – he saw it as an expression of self-assertion, rebellion against unjust authority and promotion of wisdom in human beings. They didn’t worship God or Satan. In fact they didn’t believe that either one existed. They worshipped the concept of being human. The current leader of the church has stated that it exists to promote the atheist, individualist philosophy which uses aspects of religion, such as symbolism and ritual, to offer a perspective allowing each adherent to be the center of his or her own subjective universe.”

Now more recently, we’ve heard of the Satanic Temple as existing to protest the unconstitutional promotion of Christianity by the government. So when the 10 commandments go up in front of a state house, like they did in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Satanic Temple erected a giant statue of the goat-like creature Baphomet. This is of course a separate group from LaVey’s Church of Satan, but just like that group, it isn’t what it seems. They never worshipped Satan either. And they promote reason and empathy for fellow humans. On their website, however, they make it clear that this comparison isn’t welcome. The Satanic Temple’s website states:

“With unfortunate regularity – and much to our chagrin – The Satanic Temple is confused with an earlier organization, the Church of Satan, founded by Anton Szandor LaVey in the 1960s. The Church of Satan expresses vehement opposition to the campaigns and activities of The Satanic Temple, asserting themselves as the only “true” arbiters of Satanism, while The Satanic Temple dismisses the Church of Satan as irrelevant and inactive.”

Well it wasn’t irrelevant, nor was it inactive in Sammy Davis Jr’s partying days. He was at a nightclub with friends and the Church of Satan was throwing a party. Now in these days, Sammy partied. Cocaine, alcohol, women. Sammy Davis Jr. loved women. And he loved the party that the Church of Satan was throwing. It was filled with debauchery and women. His barber had invited him and soon, he joined the church and was attending these meetings and parties regularly.

It was a popular group to be involved with at the time. Jane Mansfield was a member. Liberace belonged. And more recently, Marilyn Manson.

But for Sammy Davis Junior it was that originally party, which some have even described as an orgy, that attracted him to it. He didn’t give details, but said that he left because of one of those parties went “awry.” That’s really all we know.

Davis said in his autobiography, “It was a short-lived interest, but I still have many friends in the Church of Satan. I say this to only show that however bizarre the subject I don’t pass judgment until I have found out everything I can about it. People who can put up an interesting case will often find that I’m a willing convert.” 

Ironically, some years later, Sammy Davis Jr. went on to star in a pilot called “Poor Devil” in which he played a demon from Hell trying to work his way up out of the furnace room. It never got picked up.

So the Internet Says it’s True. And for that matter, Sammy Davis Junior himself said it was true. Who can say they belonged to the Church of Satan? The Candy Man can.

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Forgotten history, bizarre tales & facts that seem too strange to be true! Host Michael Kent asks listeners to tell him something strange, bizarre or surprising that they've recently learned and he gets to the bottom of it! Every episode ends by playing a gameshow-style quiz game with a celebrity guest. Part of the WCBE Podcast Experience.

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