Primarily a dancer and singer, Davis was a childhood vaudevillian, and became internationally famous for his performances on Broadway and Las Vegas, as a recording artist, television and film star, and the only black member of Frank Sinatra's "Rat Pack".
At the age of three Davis began his career in vaudeville with his father and "uncle" as the Will Mastin Trio, toured nationally, and after military service, returned to the trio. Davis became an overnight sensation following a well received nightclub performance at Ciro's after the 1951 Academy Awards, with the trio, became a recording artist, and made his first film performances as an adult later that decade. Losing his left eye in a car accident in 1954, he converted to Judaism and appeared in the first Rat Pack movie, "Ocean's Eleven" in 1960. After a starring role on Broadway in 1956's "Mr Wonderful", Davis returned to the stage in 1964's "Golden Boy". Davis's career slowed in the late sixties, but he scored a hit record with "The Candy Man", in 1972, and became a star attraction in Las Vegas. In 1966 he had his own TV Variety show called The Sammy Davis Jr. Show.
As an African-American and Hispanic, Davis was the victim of racism throughout his life, and was a large financial supporter of various civil rights causes. Davis had a complex relationship with the black community, and attracted criticism after physically embracing Richard Nixon in 1970.
One day on a golf course with Jack Benny, he was asked what his handicap was. "Handicap?" he asked. "Talk about handicap — I'm a one-eyed Negro Jew."   This was to become a signature comment, recounted in his autobiography, and in countless articles. 
After reuniting with Sinatra and Dean Martin in 1987, Davis toured with them and Liza Minnelli internationally, before dying of throat cancer in 1990. Davis died heavily in debt to the Internal Revenue Service, and his estate was the subject of complicated legal battles.
Davis was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP, and was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award for his television performances. He was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1987, and in 2001, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.