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Deconstructing Sammy: Music, Money, Madness, and the Mob

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  94 ratings  ·  29 reviews
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 it ever using Sammy's name or likeness again. It was as if Sammy ...more
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Published September 1st 2008 by HarperAudio (first published 2008)
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This was an interesting read. The take-aways:

-Pay your taxes
-Avoid working with the mob
-NEVER hug an unpopular republican president
-Partake of cocaine, booze, and loose women in MODERATION
-If you ever become an international star, make sure you own the rights to your work
The title of the book is entirely misleading.

What it really is is the story of Albert "Sonny" Murry (a lawyer), Altovise Davis (Sammy's last wife), and Sonny's attempt to rebuild the estate of Sammy Davis, Jr. years after his death. Sammy Davis, Jr. died heavily in debt after years of poor business decisions and exploitative mismanagement.

If you're wondering why Sammy Davis Jr.'s memory (or memorabilia) isn't held in the same league as those of his fellow Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra and Dea
Dixie Theriault
I was eager to read this book. I find that one of the most fascinating facts of our celebrity culture has always been their ability to continue earning long after they have left us.
They cease to be individuals and in fact, become corporations and icons, their names and likenesses a logo, with every part of their existence licensed and trademarked.

According to Forbes, Elvis Presley was the top earner in 2008 for the 2nd year in a row, pulling in an impressive $52 million dollars...(which is incid
Christine (booktumbling)
Deconstructing Sammy: Music, Money, and Madness is not an actual biography in the traditional sense. Author Matt Birkbeck shares the stories and memories of those that were closest to the iconic entertainer as well as the findings of Sonny Murray, whose investigation into Sammy’s debts encompasses the bulk of the book. This is not a glamorous portrait of a man who was, and still is, a loved entertainer. This is a look at a man who wanted fame and fortune at almost all costs. He spent without res ...more
Whoa. Talk about finding out more than you wanted to know via a least more than you could possibly imagine. Unlike many celebrity bios, this well-researched book doesn't sell sensationalism. That's because it doesn't need to, as Sammy Davis Jr.'s life wasn't something that could even be expanded any further. After reading this book, I promptly found a yellow pages (thought they were obsolete) and started scouring for tax attorneys, even though I don't have any tax issues. If nothi ...more
This was a decent book if you're at all interested in Sammy Davis, Jr. and the Rat Pack. Contrary to the title, the book's main character in this non-fiction story is not SDJ, but the lawyer Sonny Murray, who tried to sort out the estate of SDJ after his death for his beleaguered widow Altovise (who besides being an alcoholic Hollywood wife basket case was also an ingrate) and salvage his legacy of one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th Century. It's a pretty sad story. Sammy blew millions ...more
Deconstructing Sammy by Matt Birkbeck provided me with an inside view of Sammy Davis Jr.'s life. From the first page this would not be a light, fun-filled, flattering book. By chapter two, my jaw continued to drop right to the end of the book. I could not believe that this "Mega" entertainer died broke, making me often times confused who he really was and why he allowed so many "users" to be in his entourage. But I had to remember not everyone in your entrourage is your friend which was a mistak ...more
A book about the estate of Sammy Davis, Jr. I had heard about this book since is was published, around 2008 or so. I was intrigued by the lurid stories. I came across it at a used bookstore and picked it up.

It is poorly written, but interesting in spite of itself. It's also very sad, a glimpse into the universe that exists to make money off of stars. Not the star making machinery, but all the vultures that you know are out there but don't know much about, or at least I didn't.

Sammy's financial l
Lynell Baker
Jul 03, 2010 Lynell Baker rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: SDJ Fans
I admit I was taken for a loop with the continuing saga of Sonny Murray and the Hillside Resort but quickly grasped to the importance of the mention in this gripping tale of the 'Altovise Davis Syndrome' so to speak. Many emotions arise inside me enduring the fact of my love and admiration for Sammy Davis but also now coping with the reality of this man's actual life and history. This book allows many informative facts and statistical references which keep me asking this question: "Why Sammy, wh ...more
Funny title; it refers to a more literal story of the deconstruction of Sammy's life in a real sense than a metaphorical one. Sammy made a mess of his emotional and financial life, and it deteriorated after he died. Due to tax and family problems control of his meager estate and more substantial legacy was contested forever and essentially squandered. Pretty fascinating, if pretty grim, story.

One thing that's notable about this book is the poor copyediting, expecially from a name publisher like
Fascinating story of a lawyer who represented Davis's wife in regaining control of Sammy's estate after his death. This story unravels all the intricacies and problems that the Davis's complete mismanagement of their lives caused with the IRS, family members, and life-time friends. This is a sad commentary on the racial double standard that existed in the entertainment industry throughout Sammy's life. The private Sammy Davis, Jr. was a far different person from the one whom the publicists portr ...more
Ron Day
An incredibly compelling, shocking and tragic story, and one that I never expected. This is NOT a Sammy Davis Jr biography. It's a very well written, page turner that focuses on his affairs after his death, ostensibly the efforts to resolve his estate (he died $50 million in debt!) and restore his legacy, which apparently went down the tubes. All the while the author, Matt Birkbeck, takes us back in time to see Sammy in so many different situations. Some are highly entertaining, some sad, some d ...more
A devastating portrait of a show business legend and icon. It was hard to read this strong portrait as it totally laid bare a lifelong hero of mine. Yet, I couldn't put it down because it is a story well told. I can quibble a little with it - for example, my guess is that, due to the fact that Sammy's wife Altovise is still living, the author is very obtuse in certain spots and his implication isn't necessarily clear (as there are several possible options). Otherwise, though, I recommend it high ...more
I picked this book up as it was on sale, I had no real interest in reading it otherwise, however I'm very glad I did.
Sometimes biographies can be boring and written so matter of fact that its hard to get through.
This book is not like that at all, it's written so well and flows so smoothly its easy to forget your reading a biography.
Reading about Sammy's life I had empathy for all those involved and afterwards found myself with a sense of knowledge and respect mixed with pity for him. I enjoyed t
As others have said, less a dissection of the late Sammy Davis' troubled final decade, than a dry recitation of events involving an attorney's efforts to salvage Mr. Davis' ruined estate.

As a forensic procedural, it's an involving read. Those looking for an examination of Mr. Davis' life and career should go elsewhere.
Very entertaining. Not really a bio of Sammy but more a history of what happened to his money and the effect it had on the people around him. Not as shocking as I thought it was going to be but still interesting. Also interesting is the continuing hulabaloo going on concerning the lost cash and the rights to his name.
I'm reading the ebook version of this book. The writing is informative and succinct enough to keep you interested in completing the book even though the story of Sammy and Altovise Davis is pretty sad and, yes, frustrating. It seems as if these people never learned from mistakes.
This book focuses on the trials and tribulations that Sammy's family and his estate faced following his death. Although Birkbeck does not provide a thorough biography of Davis, he provides insightful Davis anecdotes and paints an intimate portrait of Altovise Davis, his wife.
Thought it was put together well and gave some insight into the dynamic of SDJ. I always wondered why you hear so much about Sinatra and Dean, but not so much of Sammy. With an estate in disrepair it all makes more sense.
I was a little disappointed in this book. I thought it would be more about Sammy Davis Jr. and his life but it was more focused on his financial troubles and how his estate was left after his death.
After the fact analysis of how Sammy Davis let his financial woes ruin his and his relatives lives.
Amazing and shocking book that I finished on less than 24 hours, so I didn't put it down a lot.
Scot Marvin
Fascinating account of a complex and talented entertainer.
Great book. Sad what fame can do to people.
Chris Greene
A cautionary tale to anyone in the arts.
The beginning is definitively very slow...
Well told story of an interesting man.
Depressing, depressing, depressing.
Incredible talent, sad story.
Matt Hyzer
Matt Hyzer marked it as to-read
Dec 22, 2014
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Wow 1 6 Sep 04, 2008 10:28AM  
Matt Birkbeck is an award-winning investigative journalist and critically acclaimed author. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Reader's Digest, Boston Magazine and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He is the author of "The Quiet Don," the best-selling book on Mafia boss Russell Bufalino. He also authored
"Deconstructing Sammy," the 2008 page-turner on the life and death of Sammy
More about Matt Birkbeck...
A Beautiful Child The Quiet Don: The Untold Story of Mafia Kingpin Russell Bufalino

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