Regrets, I’ve had a few…
Actor James Dean used to show up at a lot of the same parties as Sammy Davis Jr., and wanted to befriend him, but Sammy was enjoying his first blush of success and wrote him off as just another starry-eyed kid with dreams of stardom. After seeing the movie Giant he realized how much talent Dean really had, and was looking forward to telling him so. But:
When we got off (the stage) I saw Freddie Robbins standing in the wings– a buddy from New York, one of the first disc jockeys to play my records, when I’d needed it. I walked over to him, smiling.
“Great show, Sammy. Wonderful. Hey, Jimmy Dean just died.” I searched his face for a sign that it was a joke. “It just came over the air. Car crash. He was…”
I went into the dressing room and closed the door. Dave was standing in front of the radio, his face ashen, listening to the report of how it had happened.
I never got a chance to tell him. I never gave him the pleasure of hearing it. And he didn’t have that many people who told it to him.
They started the commercial. A jingle. I ripped the plug out of the socket and the sound died.
I sat down and looked at Dave. “We had him and all we did was brush him off. I did to him what I wouldn’t want anybody to do to me. I tolerated him. I treated him like a kook.”
“But he never knew that.”
“Of course he knew. He was a sensitive man. He felt everything. And I made jokes about him.”
How could I have judged a man before I knew what he was all about? Me, who’s suffered from prejudgment. Oh, God, I just hope– as corny as it sounds– I hope he knows I mean it, that I wish I’d said to him, “I know you were my friend and I wish I’d been your friend, too.”
After the second show, I borrowed a car and went for a drive by myself, circling through the winding road in the park, trying to shake the guilt that was ripping me like an iron claw. I’d been so busy being Charley Star that I hadn’t seen a guy who was reaching out to be my friend. Even on the hill when I could have said something— I could have yelled, “Hey, you were great”– but I’d wanted the pleasure of telling him just right.
Why don’t you tell someone you appreciate them while you still can?
Excerpted from Sammy Davis Jr.’s autobiography Yes I Can, ©1965.