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Deconstructing Sammy: Music, Money, Madness, and the Mob Hardcover – September 16, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Amistad; 1 edition (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061450669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061450662
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,070,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Birkbeck has killer leads, gripping kickers and sensational descriptions. This cinematic book reads more like a detective story than a traditional ‘life of.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Tremendous. . . Birkbeck tells the epic of Sammy Davis Jr... from his Harlem boyhood to his wrenching deathbed (he died of cancer in 1990) in his Beverly Hills mansion, where various hangers-on, seeing the circling vultures, stripped his corpse even before it was a corpse.” (Los Angeles Times Book Review)

“A piece of investigative journalism that unravels what happened to Davis’ estate, and reveals more about the man...Birkbeck spoke to people that have never spoken before -- and the portrait of Sammy that emerges is difficult, demanding, and ultimately tragic.” (NPR's Talk of the Nation)

“Exceptionally detailed…makes tax law sexy,” (Library Journal)

“With a journalist’s eye toward a great story, author Matt Birkbeck leads readers through a decades-long financial mess including cover-ups… mob connections, political friendships and snubbing.…Un-put-down-able…Stunning.” (TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER, NATIONAL BOOK REVIEWER)

“Davis’s remarkable life is certainly well-trod territory. Nevertheless, through interviews with close friends and confidants who had never spoken publicly before, Birkbeck digs up many startling details.” (MICHAEL RUBINKAM, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

From the Back Cover

Sammy Davis Jr. lived a storied life. Adored by millions over a six-decade-long career, he was considered an entertainment icon and a national treasure. But despite lifetime earnings that topped $50 million, Sammy died in 1990 near bankruptcy. His estate was declared insolvent, and there was no possibility of itever using Sammy's name or likeness again. It was as if Sammy had never existed.

Years later his wife, Altovise, a once-vivacious woman and heir to one of the greatest entertainment legacies of the twentieth century, was living in poverty, and with nowhere else to go, she turned to a former federal prosecutor, Albert "Sonny" Murray, to make one last attempt to resolve Sammy's debts, restore his estate, and revive his legacy. For seven years Sonny probed Sammy's life to understand how someone of great notoriety and wealth could have lost everything, and in the process he came to understand Sammy as a man whose complexity makes for a riveting work of celebrity biography as cultural history.

Matt Birkbeck's serious work of investigative journalism unveils the extraordinary story of an international celebrity at the center of a confluence of entertainment, politics, and organized crime, and shows how even Sammy's outsized talent couldn't save him from himself.

More About the Author

Matt Birkbeck is an award-winning investigative journalist and critically acclaimed author.

Birkbeck's latest book, "The Quiet Don" (Berkley/Penguin) tells the remarkable story of Mafia kingpin Russell Bufalino, who built a vast organized crime empire in the decades between Prohibition and the Carter presidency and whose power and influence reached the highest levels of government. Once described by a U.S. Senate subcommittee as "one of the most ruthless and powerful leaders of the Mafia in the United States," Bufalino's legacy left a culture of corruption that continues to this day.

Birkbeck also authored "Deconstructing Sammy: Music, Money, Madness, and the Mob" (Amistad/Harper Collins 2008), which tells the riveting story of Sammy Davis Jr. and the efforts to resolve his millions in debts and restore his legacy following his death in 1990. The New York Times Book Review called Deconstructing Sammy "Gripping" and "Sensational," and the Los Angeles Times called it "Epic."

A Beautiful Child (Berkley/Penguin 2004), is the international best seller which tells the remarkable, tragic story of Sharon Marshall, a brilliant young woman who was kidnapped as a toddler by Franklin Delano Floyd, a convicted felon, fugitive, and pedophile who raised her as his daughter while traveling the country using stolen identities. Birkbeck spent six hours in a Florida prison in 2003 interviewing Floyd, who had just been sentenced to death for torturing and murdering a Tampa woman.

Birkbeck also authored A Deadley Secret (Berkley/Putnam 2002), which explores the investigation into Robert Durst, the heir to a New York real estate fortune accused of killing his wife and two others. Birkbeck is also the coauthor of Till Death Do Us Part (Atria/Simon & Schuster) in 2006 with Dr. Robi Ludwig, a noted psychologist who appears regularly on The Today Show and Larry King Live.

Birkbeck has written for the New York Times, Reader's Digest, Rolling Stone, People Magazine, Boston Magazine, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He is currently a senior writer at Harrison Scott Publications, covering Wall Street and financial regulatory issues in Washington, D.C.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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It is a fast moving and very sad story.
I bought this CD since I am not an avid book reader but I just had to have this one.
And not the way I want to remember SAMMY DAVIS, JR. But this story had to be told.
T. G. Harpster

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Angelia Menchan on October 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Deconstructing Sammy by Matt Birkbeck provides the reader with an inside view of Sammy Davis Jr.'s life. It was obvious from the first page this would not be a light, fun-filled, flattering book. By page two, there was information that caused my jaw to drop and would not allow me to stop reading until I had completed the book.

Birkbeck exposes how Davis' zest for life and desire to live and spend as though there was no tomorrow, wreaked havoc in the life of this huge talent. The author also paints an unflattering view of the entertainment industry and how it literally feeds off the largesse of egocentric entertainers. There were moments in this book when I actually had to read it again, unable to believe that family and friends would do some of the things indicated, such as literally stealing from the home of a dying man.

Deconstructing Sammy, also exposes the frailties of his wife, Altovise, and tells in no uncertain terms how she dealt with her emotional issues with a jar full of vodka. I could literally feel the pain of this woman who lived in her husband's shadow, with no personal identity. There is also much mention of how Sammy squandered millions and ended up in debt to the IRS. This book could serve as Entertainment 101 on what not to do.

I found Deconstructing Sammy to be fascinating and at times harrowing. I recommend the book to all who love biographies and those who simply want to know what a celebrity's life can really be, behind closed doors.

Angelia Menchan
APOOO BookClub
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By eclectictastes on September 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In his two autobiographies, Sammy Davis, Jr. made it clear how determined he was, at all costs, to be a legend in the entertainment industry on par with Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and his friend, Frank Sinatra. Sadly for Davis and his family, the memories of his controversial 60 year career are continuing to fade 18 years after his death.

In Deconstructing Sammy, Matt Birkbeck shows how Davis' live for today philosophy, his poor business decisions and his neglect of his wives and children led to the shambles of his legacy and finances. Although Davis himself had a happy public persona, Birbeck shows how the seedy and exploitative aspects of the entertainment industry contributed to the darker aspects of his personality. In one chilling passage, Birkbeck writes how the people in his life, including his manager and wife, were busy looting his house as Davis lay on his deathbed. Davis' widow, Altovise, serves as one of the story's primary characters. A barely functioning alcoholic who eventually frustrates and alienates almost everyone she meets, one can't help but feel sorry for Altovise who comes across as a modern day Norma Desmond with severe emotional issues after years of being exploited and ignored by Sammy for most of their marriage and scorned by his family and associates. With her best years seemingly behind her, she spends her days drinking vodka out of mayonaise jars, reflecting on her husband's glory days in Hollywood and holding onto the delusion that she can return to her A-list, Beverly Hills lifestyle despite the loss of money and celebrity.

Unfortunately, Davis is not the first nor last celebrity to spend his way through a fortune. The book makes for depressing reading but it should be required for all future entertainers hoping to make their fortune in show business.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Suellen G. Zimet on December 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I wish there were endless books like this. Revealing and stunning information about how Sammy Davis lived his life. A thorough look into the man he really was (not who I thought he was) The racist world he came from which orchestrated his eventual plunge into excess and waste. His friends who weren't so friendly, his wives and lovers who contributed to the darkest side of his life. This man who was a giant in the entertainment world and his tragic demise. Completely riveting. One of those books you don't want to finish but can't stop reading.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Rick Shaq Goldstein on October 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Sammy Davis Jr. was probably the most gifted multi-talented entertainer of the twentieth century. He was a great singer... dancer... actor... and his impressions of famous personalities were "spot-on" beyond belief. Yet when Sammy died from throat cancer at the age of sixty-four on May 16, 1990 he was almost penniless... in debt... and his wife... close friends... and employees were stealing him blind. As Sammy lay dying in his bedroom on a morphine drip... they were stealing Rolls Royce's, paintings, films, recordings, furniture... and more importantly... as the crux of this book is built around... the future use of his good name... likeness... and any intellectual properties... royalties... and residuals.

After his death, by August 1994, Sammy's taxpayer debt to the IRS "WAS THE LARGEST SINGLE OPEN CASE OF AN INDIVIDUAL TAXPAYER DEBT IN THE NATION." The central character in the pursuit of settling the case with the government was Albert "Sonny" Murray. Sonny had gained national fame as the lead prosecutor that brought down E.F. Hutton. Because of Sammy's unpaid tax debt to the IRS... "SAMMY'S NAME AND LIKENESS WAS OWNED BY THE IRS. BECAUSE OF THE DEBT, SPECIFICALLY THE MONEY OWED TO THE GOVERNMENT, NO ONE WANTED TO DO BUSINESS WITH THE SAMMY DAVIS JR. ESTATE, KNOWING THE IRS WAS WATCHING. HENCE, SINCE SAMMY'S DEATH, THERE WERE NO MOVIES, RECORDS, OR VIDEO, AND VERY FEW BUSINESS DEALS INVOLVING THE NAME, LIKENESS, OR VOICE OF SAMMY DAVIS JR." **IT WAS AS IF SAMMY NEVER EXISTED**

As Sonny invests year after year trying to find out why Sammy's estate has no money, the book uncovers deceit and debauchery, not only by Sammy, but by other famous household names ranging from Frank Sinatra - to - John F. Kennedy - to - the mafia - and believe it or not...
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