Get to Know More About Dean Martin, The (Late) King Of Cool

For decades, Dean Martin was America’s unofficial ambassador to the world of women, music, and coolness. Martin rose to fame as one half of the duo Martin and Lewis, which was before he secured himself a spot as Frank Sinatra’s “adviser” and member of the Rat Pack. Aside from his crooning, Martin’s cunning sense of humor and charm is what won him the love and admiration of millions of fans.

One of the world’s most popular entertainers, Dean Martin starred in a string of hit movies with Jerry Lewis and hosted his own variety show on TV. But the crooner purposely used humor to hide his shyness. Are you curious as to how he was offstage? Would you be surprised if I told you that the suave Hollywood icon was actually a father of eight who preferred golf and apple juice to clubs and martinis?

Here are some lesser-known facts about Dean Martin, the king of cool, who passed away in 1995, at the age of 78.

The Origin of the King of Cool

Dean Martin’s effortless charm and self-deprecating wisecracks were what fans absolutely loved about him. It was also his polished image that rightfully earned him the nickname King of Cool. But many people, myself included, are likely shocked to hear that behind all the supposed boozing and womanizing, Dean was not all that he seemed.

Dean Martin and his brother, Bill Crocetti
Dean Martin and his brother, Bill Crocetti. Source: everybodylovesitalian.com

Dean was born as Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio, on June 7, 1917. He was the son of an Italian barber, Gaetano Alfonso Crocetti, and an Italian-American mother, Angela Crocetti. Dean had an older brother named William (Bill) Alfonso Crocetti. Dean’s first language was Italian and didn’t speak English until he started school at the age of five. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the young boy was bullied for his broken English.

Shy or English-Challenged?

Dean Martin once confessed to keeping quiet because of his English. He said, “When Jerry Lewis and I were big, we went to parties, and everybody thought I was big-headed and stuck-up, I wasn’t. It was because I didn’t know how to speak good English, so I used to keep my mouth shut.” While his early school days weren’t easy due to his broken English, he did find ways to keep himself busy.

Dean Martin , Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis
Dean Martin , Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis. Photo By Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

As a teenager, Dean played the drums as a hobby. He ended up dropping out of Steubenville High School in the 10th grade because he thought he was smarter than all of his teachers. And like most high school dropouts, he went down a path that was filtered with illegal activities. But growing up in America during the Depression meant you had to be tough and adapt in order to survive. Dean found his way…

Kid Crochet, the Boxer

After dropping out of high school, Dean started to bootleg liquor. He did a lot of things, though. He worked in a steel mill, served as a blackjack dealer at a speakeasy, and was even a welterweight boxer. By the age of 15, Martin was a boxer who nicknamed himself “Kid Crochet.” And with that name and his prizefighting, he earned himself a slew of injuries.

Mike Kellin, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin. At War With The Army - 1950
Mike Kellin, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin. At War With The Army – 1950. Photo By Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

He got a broken nose (which was later straightened), a scarred lip, broken knuckles (because he couldn’t afford tape used to wrap his hands), and a bruised body. Of his 12 total boxing matches, he said that he “won all but 11”. It was around that time that Dean started meeting people who were hungry to get into show business.

The Frist Rule of Fight Club

For a while, Martin shared an apartment in New York City with Sonny King, the future lounge singer. At the time, he was just starting in show business and didn’t have much money. The two roommates reportedly charged people to watch them box each other bare-knuckle in their apartment. They would fight until one was knocked out.

Dean Martin, 1955
Photo By Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

During one of their amateur boxing matches, Martin knocked out King in the first round. But Martin later decided to give up boxing to work as a roulette stickman and card dealer in an illegal casino behind a tobacco shop in NYC, where he had started as a stock boy. In those days, Martin would also sing with local bands. Now that he was starting to sing, he gave himself another nickname.

Dino Martini, the Singer

In his very early singing days, Martin would call himself “Dino Martini” (akin to the Metropolitan Opera tenor Nino Martini). He got his break when he was working for the Ernie McKay Orchestra. He would sing in a crooning style that was influenced by Harry Mills of the Mills Brothers and Perry Como. By the early 40s, he was singing for bandleader Sammy Watkins.

Dean Martin, Elizabeth Anne McDonald
Dean Martin, Elizabeth Anne McDonald. Photo By Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

It was Watkins who suggested he change his stage name to Dean Martin. In October 1941, 24-year-old Martin married Elizabeth “Betty” Anne McDonald in Cleveland, Ohio. The couple lived in an apartment in Cleveland Heights for a time. They managed to have four children before their marriage finally ended in 1949.

Flopping After Sinatra

Throughout the early 40s, Martin worked for various bands, mostly getting hired for his looks and personality. That is until he developed his own singing style. One night, he followed Frank Sinatra at the Riobamba nightclub in New York in 1943. But it was a major flop. But it happens to the best, right? Martin was able to make a good living singing in east coast clubs.

Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, My Friend Irma - 1949
Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, My Friend Irma – 1949. Photo By Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

But success didn’t come overnight for Martin. He was two years into the first of his three total marriages and was at that point a father to one. But when he met actor and comic Jerry Lewis, everything changed. Lewis became his screen, stage, and nightclub other half for the next decade.

When Jerry Met Dean

Martin met Jerry Lewis at the Glass Hat Club in New York, where they were both performing. Martin and Lewis became fast friends, which led to being in each other’s acts and the eventual formation of a music-comedy team. The duo’s debut occurred at Atlantic City’s 500 Club on July 24, 1946. And no, the audience didn’t like them.

Jerry Lewis, George Marshall, Dean Martin in 1949. Film Stills of 'My Friend Irma'
Jerry Lewis, George Marshall, Dean Martin in 1949. Film Stills of ‘My Friend Irma.’ Photo By Snap/Shutterstock

The club owner, Skinny D’Amato, warned the two that if they didn’t come up with a better act for their second show that very same night, they would be fired. Boom. So they huddled in the alley behind the club, and Lewis and Martin agreed to “go for broke.” They divided their act into songs, skits, and ad-libbed material.

Slapstick Comedy

Martin would sing, and Lewis, dressed as a busboy, would drop plates and make a mess of Martin’s performance and the club itself until Lewis was chased out of the room as Martin threw bread rolls at him. Yes, that was their show. It was pure slapstick comedy. They used old vaudeville jokes and did whatever popped into their heads.

Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin
Photo By Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

The audience? Well, they laughed. And this was the beginning of something huge. Their success led to a series of well-paying gigs on the Eastern seaboard, ending in a run at New York’s famous club, the Copacabana. The duo then made their TV debut on June 20, 1948, on the first broadcast of CBS-TV network’s The Ed Sullivan Show (which was then called The Toast of the Town).

Making Their Millions

Martin and Lewis wanted to improve their act, so they hired two young comedy writers, Norman Lear and Ed Simmons, to write their bits. With the help of Lear and Simmons, the comedy pair took their act beyond nightclubs. In 1949, a radio series began when Martin and Lewis signed with Paramount as comedy relief for the movie ‘My Friend Irma.’

John Lund, Marie Wilson, Dean Martin, Diana Lynn, Jerry Lewis, Corinne Calvet
John Lund, Marie Wilson, Dean Martin, Diana Lynn, Jerry Lewis, Corinne Calvet. Photo By Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

Their agent, Abby Greshler, ended up negotiating one of Hollywood’s best deals. Although they received just $75,000 between them for their films with Paramount, Martin and Lewis’s contracted stated that they were free to do one film outside of Paramount per year. They also controlled their club, record, radio, and TV appearances. It was through all that that these talented young men earned their first millions.

His Best Man

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis became one of the most bankable partnerships in showbiz history. In Dean & Me, Lewis called Martin one of the greatest comic geniuses of all time. But Martin later said how he hated their films. “They were Jerry Lewis movies. I played an idiot in everyone,” was how Dean Martin put it. The two, however, were more than just professional partners; they were real buddies (at the time).

Jerry Lewis Holding Dean Martin and Jeanne Biegger's Son
Jerry Lewis Holding Dean Martin and Jeanne Biegger’s Son. Photo By Globe Photos/Mediapunch/Shutterstock

Lewis was Martin’s best man when he married Dorothy Jean “Jeanne” Biegger, his second wife, in 1949. Biegger was a former Orange Bowl queen from Coral Gables, Florida. Their marriage was a long one, having lasted 24 years (until 1973). They had three children together – which was in addition to his other four children.

The End of an Era

The end of their partnership came in 1956 and was characterized by bitterness and backstabbing. Martin wasn’t a happy camper. All the harsh comments from critics and the frustration with the similarity of Martin’s and Lewis’s movies (which producer Hal Wallis refused to change) led to Martin being simply fed up.

Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis
Photo By Kobal/Shutterstock

He was starting to put less enthusiasm into their work, and that alone led to escalating arguments with Lewis. Martin eventually told his partner that he was “nothing to me but a dollar sign.” Ouch. Funnily (or strangely) enough, they broke up ten years to the day from their first pairing up. Lewis took the split particularly hard. On the night of their break-up, Jerry had to take sleeping pills.

Before and After Jerry Lewis

It doesn’t sound like Martin took it as hard. According to his second wife, Jeanne Biegger, Martin came home, ate a fried-egg sandwich, and watched TV as if nothing ever happened. Meanwhile, Lewis was hurt and angry. Apparently, he refused to listen to Martin’s records for years. Martin had his own way of “coping” with their breakup.

Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Eddie Fisher, and Marilyn Monroe
Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Eddie Fisher, and Marilyn Monroe. Photo By Mediapunch/Shutterstock

In his unique style, Martin would pay his ex-partner something of a backhanded compliment. He said once that the two biggest turning points in his career were: “meeting Jerry Lewis” and “leaving Jerry Lewis.” Martin would go on to sell millions of records with 40 hit singles between 1950 and 1969, including his signature tune, ‘That’s Amore’ and ‘Everybody Loves Somebody.’

But first, he had to go solo…

Going Solo

Martin’s first solo film was ‘Ten Thousand Bedrooms’ in 1957, which was a box-office flop. He was still popular as a singer then, but with rock and roll coming to the mainstream, the era of pop-crooning was fading quickly. Martin saw the coming switch in music and wanted to make his move into dramatic acting. He wanted to be known as more than just a slapstick comedy actor.

Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, Dean Martin
Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, Dean Martin. The Young Lions – 1958. Photo By 20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

He was offered a fraction of his former salary to star in the war drama, ‘The Young Lions’, in 1958, which also featured Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. Martin was to be the third one to make it a triple threat. The film turned out to be the beginning of Martin’s comeback and move into a dramatic film.

A Dramatic Actor

By the mid-60s, Martin was known as a movie, recording, TV, and nightclub star. He was praised for his role as Dude in ‘Rio Bravo’ (1959). In 1960, Martin won a Golden Globe nomination for his performance in the 1960 comedy ‘Who Was That Lady?’ Martin was looking for mostly dramas, playing a Southern politician in 1961’s ‘Ada,’ starring in 1963’s ‘Toys in the Attic,’ and playing in 1970’s drama ‘Airport.’

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Some Came Running - 1958
Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Some Came Running – 1958. Photo By MGM/Kobal/Shutterstock

Martin starred next to Frank Sinatra for the first time in ‘Some Came Running’ in 1958. The two crooners teamed up for several more movies, like the notorious crime adventure flick ‘Ocean’s 11,’ the musical ‘Robin and the 7 Hoods,’ and Western comedies as well. Martin also co-starred with Shirley MacLaine in a few films.

Elvis, Country Music, and Copying Styles

As a singer, Martin copied the style of Harry Mills, Bing Crosby, and Perry Como until he developed his own voice and could hold his own in duets with Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. Like Sinatra, Martin wasn’t able to read music, yet he managed to record more than 100 albums and 600 songs. “Everybody Loves Somebody” even beat the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” at number one in the United States in 1964.

Frank Sinatra , Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin
Frank Sinatra , Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin. Photo By Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

Word on the street is Elvis Presley was a fan of Martin, too, even copying Martin’s style in his song “Love Me Tender.” Like Elvis, Martin was influenced by country music. He often hosted country performers on his TV show. He was named “Man of the Year” by the Country Music Association in 1966. His final album, in 1983, was The Nashville Sessions.

Family Talent

The image of Martin as a Las Vegas entertainer in his tuxedo has been an enduring one. For three decades, Martin was one of the most popular acts in Vegas. He not only sang but was one of the smoothest comics in the business. And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Martin’s kids also got his talent.

Deana Martin and Ray Williams Dancing at A 1960s Nightclub, 1966
Deana Martin and Ray Williams Dancing at A 1960s Nightclub, 1966. Photo By Historia/Shutterstock

His daughter, Gail, sang in Vegas and on TV shows, including Dean’s. His other daughter, Deana Martin, continues to perform, as did his youngest son Ricci Martin – up until his death in August 2016. His eldest son Craig was a producer on Martin’s TV show, and his daughter Claudia was an actress. Though he was often seen as a ladies’ man, Martin spent a lot of time with his family.

The Rat Pack

As Martin’s solo career climbed, he and Frank Sinatra became friends. In the late 50s and early 60s, Martin and Sinatra and friends Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and Sammy Davis, Jr. formed the notorious Rat Pack. They named themselves after an earlier group of friends, the Holmby Hills Rat Pack. The men made movies together, forming part of the Hollywood social scene.

The cast of Ocean's Eleven – 1960
Ocean’s Eleven – 1960. Richard Conte, Buddy Lester, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Akim Tamiroff, Henry Silva, Richard Benedict, Norman Fell, Clem Harvey. Photo By: Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock

They were even politically influential (Lawford was married to Patricia Kennedy, the sister of President John F. Kennedy). The gang’s chemistry was best seen in their 1960 cult film ‘Ocean’s 11.’ The tuxedo-wearing entertainers would sing and tell racy jokes about Sinatra’s womanizing, Martin’s drinking, and Davis Jr’s race. But even though Martin always had a cigarette in his hand and a whiskey cocktail in the other, it was a façade.

The Cool Guy Act

The image of a drinking, womanizing, cool guy was really just an act. That martini? It was apple juice. Backing singer Patti Gribow once said: “Dean had a larger-than-life ­persona, but he was not a womanizer or skirt-chaser. He was just a sweetheart of a guy. On stage, he was in control and acted like he was a drunk, or he was going to chase the girl. He was always mischievous, offstage he was shy.”

Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin at Heathrow Airport. On the left is Michail Romanoff
Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin at Heathrow Airport. On the left is Michail Romanoff. Photo By Associated Newspapers /Shutterstock

According to his second wife, Jeanne, Martin did have affairs, but “He was home every night for dinner.” The idea that Martin was a party animal who hung out with Mafia men was simply not true. The misconception might have a lot to do with his affiliation with Frank Sinatra, who was indeed a friend of the mob.

See the * life of Frank Sinatra

A Fun Group

The Rat Pack was legendary for their Las Vegas performances. Their appearances were clearly valuable because the whole city would flood in with wealthy gamblers. Their tuxedo-clad act consisted of each singing his own number, duets and trios, and slapstick comedy and chatter. In the socially charged decade of the 1960s, their jokes revolved around the relevant themes.

L-R Peter Lawford, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra.
L-R Peter Lawford, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra. Photo By Underwood Archives/UIG/Shutterstock

The Rat Pack was famous for showing up at each other’s performances unannounced. It happened so often that it became a thing, and the audience expected it. Whenever Martin performed in Vegas, the sign would typically read “DEAN MARTIN—MAYBE FRANK—MAYBE SAMMY.” Unlike his Rat Pack associates, Martin was a bit of a party pooper. While Frank and the boys were out partying, Martin was home early. Martin liked to get a good night’s sleep so he could play golf early in the morning.

The Bond Between Sinatra and Martin

Sinatra and Martin were known for supporting the civil rights movement of the era. They refused to perform in nightclubs that wouldn’t allow African-American or Jewish performers. Comedian Tom Dreesen, who used to open for Sinatra in the 80s and 90s, said once: “Dean had hands the size of a ham, and he could handle himself. He didn’t say a whole lot.”

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, 1964.
Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, 1964. Source: Shutterstock

Dreesen also commented on the bond Sinatra, and Martin had. “Sinatra respected Dean more than any other man alive.” He was the brother Sinatra never had. Frank always wanted to be a tough guy, and Dean was just that. He didn’t take crap from anybody, especially Frank. According to Dreesen, “If Frank said, ‘Hey, we’re all going to stay up until dawn,’ we’d all stay up until dawn. If Dean wanted to go to bed, Dean would go to bed. It’d pissed off Frank. I think subconsciously; Frank respected that he was his own man.”

The Dean Martin Show

In 1965, Martin debuted his weekly NBC comedy show, The Dean Martin Show, which aired for 264 episodes until 1974. It got so successful that Martin was making a few million per episode! He won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Television Series Musical or Comedy in 1966. He was nominated again for the following three years.

Dean Martin, Jonathan Winters, The Dean Martin Show.
Dean Martin, Jonathan Winters, The Dean Martin Show – 1965-1974. Photo By Nbc-Tv/Kobal/Shutterstock

The show, however, exploited his image as a happy-go-lucky boozer. He capitalized on this fake image of drinking and hitting on women with remarks that would get any other guy slapped in the face. The show’s loose format was full of quick-witted improvisation from Martin and his guests. But he later had trouble with NBC for using obscene Italian phrases, as viewers complained.

Laid Back or Lazy?

The show was commonly in the Top Ten. Martin was very appreciative of the show’s producer, which was also his friend, Greg Garrison. The two had made a handshake deal giving Garrison 50% of the show. And the star, who rubbed shoulders with actresses like Sophia Loren, had a clause in his contract stating that he didn’t have to rehearse.

Billy Graham, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Don Rickles, Orson Welles. The Dean Martin Show
Billy Graham, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Don Rickles, Orson Welles. The Dean Martin Show – 1965-1974. Photo By NBC-Tv/Kobal/Shutterstock

A stand-in replaced him from Monday to Thursday while Martin played golf. Martin’s laid-back approach, which bordered on laziness, didn’t always work in his favor. In 1972, his agreement with a Vegas hotel was canceled because he refused to do more than one performance a night. By the early 70s, The Dean Martin Show was still getting solid ratings, and his albums continued to sell.

One Door Closes, Another Opens

Martin was smooth sailing in terms of making money. He began reducing his schedule the older he got. The final season of his variety show (1973–1974) turned into one of his celebrity roasts, requiring less involvement. Martin and his panel of friends made fun of popular entertainment, athletic, and political figures. After the show’s cancelation, NBC still airs The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast until 1984.

Dean Martin and Catherine Mae Hawn
Dean Martin and Catherine Mae Hawn. Photo By Globe Photos/Shutterstock

With the end of his own TV show came the end of his second marriage. He and Jeanne divorced in 1973. That same year, Martin’s third marriage began. Martin was 55 when he married then 26-year-old Catherine Hawn, on April 25, 1973. Hawn was the receptionist at a chic hair salon (Gene Shacove) in Beverly Hills.

All Good Things Come to an End

The two stayed married for three years before Martin initiated his third and last divorce on November 10, 1976. The two had no biological children of their own, but Martin adopted Hawn’s daughter, Sasha, when they were married. Martin was briefly engaged to Gail Renshaw, but it never got further than that. Martin eventually reconciled with Jeanne, his second wife, but they never remarried

Catherine Hawn (L) and Dean Martin (C) attend a fundraiser for the Concern Foundaition
Catherine Hawn (L) and Dean Martin (C) attend a fundraiser for the Concern Foundaition in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on May 25, 1974. Photo By Fairchild Archive/Penske Media/Shutterstock

For about a decade, Martin recorded as many as four albums per year for Reprise Records. His final recordings were with Warner Bros. Records. “The Nashville Sessions,” his last album, was released in 1983. On it was his hit “(I Think That I Just Wrote) My First Country Song.” His last starring role in a film was the 1974 drama ‘Mr. Ricco.’ But he played a role in the 1981 comedy ‘The Cannonball Run’ as well as its sequel, both with Burt Reynolds.

Reconciling with Jerry Lewis

It was a long time coming, but sometimes time heals all wounds. Dean Martin made a public reconciliation with Jerry Lewis on the Lewis’s MDA Telethon in September of 1976, in which Frank Sinatra was featured. Sinatra had shocked Lewis when he brought Martin out onto the stage. As Martin and Lewis embraced after so much time apart, the audience gave them a standing ovation.

Frank Sinatra With Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin
Frank Sinatra With Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. Photo By Globe Photos/Shutterstock

It was good for business (or charity, for that matter) because the phones lit up, resulting in one of the telethon’s most profitable years. Lewis later said how that event was one of the three most memorable in his life. That night, Lewis quipped, “So, you working?” And Martin, playing drunk, said he appeared “at the ‘Meggum’” (the MGM Grand Hotel). The two old friends kept a quiet friendship, and performed once more in 1989, on Dean Martin’s 72nd birthday.

His Son’s Tragic Death

Martin’s single “Since I Met You Baby” included his first music video, which appeared on MTV. The music clip was created by Martin’s youngest son, Ricci. Then, sadly, Dean Martin had to experience what every parent fears. On March 21, 1987, Martin’s son Dean Paul Martin (who used to be Dino of the 60s “teeny-bopper” rock group Dino, Desi & Billy), died.

Dean Martin with his son, Dean Paul Martin
Dean Martin with his son, Dean Paul Martin, on the set of ‘The Dean Martin Show’ Christmas special in 1967 in Los Angeles, California. Source: tumblr.com

Paul Martin, a pilot with the California Air National Guard, was in his F-4 Phantom II jet fighter when it crashed mid-air. The plane crashed into the San Gorgonio Mountain in California. In an eerie coincidence, Sinatra’s mother died in a plane crash on that same mountain ten years earlier. Martin’s grief over his son’s death took a heavy toll on him. It left him depressed and completely demoralized. A tour with Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra in 1988 was arranged to help Martin recover. But it wasn’t at all what Martin wanted.

His Last Appearances

Martin, who responded best to a night club audience, felt totally lost in these huge stadiums they had to perform in – at Sinatra’s insistence. He also wasn’t interested in drinking until dawn after their shows. Martin’s final Vegas shows were at Bally’s Hotel in 1990. It was there that he had his final reunion with Lewis for his 72nd birthday.

Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. 'Together Again' Tour Rehearsals
Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. ‘Together Again’ Tour Rehearsals. 1988. Photo By Bei/Shutterstock

Martin’s last-ever TV appearances involved tributes to his past Rat Pack members. On December 8, 1989, he participated in Sammy Davis Jr’s 60th-anniversary celebration, which aired a matter of weeks before Davis passed away from throat cancer. In December of 1990, Martin congratulated Sinatra on his 75th birthday special.

But Dean Martin was nearing the end of his life…

His Final Minutes

A heavy smoker, Martin was unsurprisingly diagnosed with lung cancer at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in September of 1993. He was told that if he wanted to prolong his life, he would need to have surgery. But the old man rejected it. He retired from the public eye in early 1995 and on Christmas Day in 1995, the Hollywood legend died.

An older Dean Martin with Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra in 1988.
Dean Martin with Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra in 1988. Photo by Bei / Shutterstock

He died of acute respiratory failure from emphysema at his Beverly Hills home. He was 78 years old. Interestingly, his death occurred 29 years to the day, almost to the minute, after his mother died. In his honor, the lights on the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed. Martin’s body was buried at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. His tombstone reads: “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime.”

And now for some random, but interesting, facts about Dean Martin…

Childhood Friends and Stars

Martin was childhood friends with the one and only Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, the famous sports commentator and Las Vegas bookmaker. Snyder worked his way up through Steubenville’s gambling underground to being CBS’s prognosticator-in-residence for NFL Today. He made his early fortune by correctly predicting that Harry S. Truman was going to win the 1948 presidential election.

The cast of Cannonball Run II, including Dean Martin and Jimmy Snyder.
The cast of Cannonball Run II, including Dean Martin and Jimmy Snyder. Source: cineplex.com

The two weren’t just friends; they became costars, too. Martin and Snyder appeared together in the movie Cannonball Run II. Speaking of fame, no one can deny that Martin was a multi-talented entertainer. In fact, he’s the only person to have ever been given three stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame: one for film, television, and music.

In the Name of Vanity

Martin spent the early 40s singing with different bands, most notably the Ernie McKay Orchestra. But when he was singing with these bands, most of the bandleaders didn’t really like Martin’s singing. They found his style to be too similar to Bing Crosby, Perry Como, or Harry Mills. It was his charm and personality that won him gigs as well as the hearts of audiences.

Bill Crosby singing with Dean Martin and Jack Jones.
Bill Crosby singing with Dean Martin and Jack Jones. Photo by Mediapunch / Shutterstock

His looks were a major part of his career, and it seems like Martin was fully aware of that. To help him get further in show business, Martin got a nose job when he was 27 years old. Reportedly, the plastic surgery was paid for by superstar comedian Lou Costello. Funnily enough, Martin’s son later married Costello’s daughter, Carole. It seems like a fair trade, no?

In-Laws and Memorials

Speaking of keeping it all in the family, Martin’s son-in-law was Carl Wilson from the Beach Boys, who married Martin’s daughter, Gina. In terms of in-laws, Martin had some more famous people in his extended family. Figure skater Dorothy Hamill and actress Olivia Hussey were both his daughters-in-law at one time, during their marriages to Martin’s son, Dean Paul Martin.

Carl and Gina Wilson in 1989 photographed in front of a painted concrete wall.
Photo by Scott Weiner / Mediapunch / Shutterstock

After Martin’s death, Steubenville’s city council assembled a permanent Dean Martin Committee, which was chaired by Dean’s daughter, Deana. They provide walking tours of Martin’s frequent visits, fundraisers for the Dean Martin Scholarship, and the annual Dean Martin Festival. There’s one word for how Steubenville feels about their most famous and beloved son, and that’s amore.

Comic Books Only

Though he wasn’t big on reading, considering how English was his second language, and he was much more of a people person, the crooner claimed to have read only one book in his whole life. That book: Black Beauty. But aside from the fact that he wasn’t anything close to an avid reader, the man did love his comic books.

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in At War With The Army in 1950.
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in At War With The Army in 1950. Photo by Paramount / Kobal / Shutterstock

Martin apparently loved them. He would often get his comedy partner, Jerry Lewis, to go and buy them for him. Why? Because Martin was worried that it could hurt his cool guy persona if he was seen buying comic books at a comic book store. And you know what, he was probably right. It would have changed what people thought about him.

Elevators vs. Golf

Did you know that Dean Martin was very claustrophobic? He particularly hated elevators, which he referred to as “coffins.” He would take the stairs whenever possible. Martin once walked up 18 flights of stairs just to avoid riding in an elevator. Now that’s a fear of elevators if I’ve ever heard of one.

Dean Martin golfing in the film Bandolero!
Dean Martin golfing in the film Bandolero! Photo by Pierluigi Praturlon / Shutterstock

While he hated cramp places, he did love golf; a pastime full of open space – the complete opposite of an elevator. It wasn’t just that Martin loved golf; he found a way to make his passion for the sport profitable. He offered a signature line of golf balls, and the Dean Martin Tucson Open was an event on the PGA Tour from 1972 to 75.

He Was a Buzz Killington

Elevators weren’t the only things Dea Martin hated. He also despised going to parties. He once called the cops at his own party! He posed as one of his own neighbors, complaining to the cops about a party “at Dean Martin’s house.” The police indeed arrived and shut down the party, which was being hosted by his own wife. I don’t think she was pleased.

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis with another actress in The Caddy.
Photo by Moviestore Collection / Shutterstock

Here’s a fun fact: “That’s Amore” was first performed in 1953 in the Martin and Lewis movie ‘The Caddy.’ But here’s the thing: unbeknownst to Martin, Lewis had paid $10,000 to songwriters Jack Brooks and Harry Warren for them to write a sure-fire hit just for Martin. It paid off, because “That’s Amore” went straight to the top of the charts.

Westerns and Spy Parodies

In 1959, Martin acted in a Western, ‘Rio Bravo,’ with John Wayne and teen idol Ricky Nelson. Martin was suggested for the role by his friend Montgomery Clift, who himself turned down the role. Martin played the role of a drunken sheriff, something he found difficult because he was supposed to cry on cue.

Ricky Nelson, John Wayne, and Dean Martin in the film Rio Bravo, 1959.
Ricky Nelson, John Wayne, and Dean Martin in the film Rio Bravo, 1959. Photo by Warner Bros / Kobal / Shutterstock

In one of the film’s scenes, Martin and Nelson performed a duet of “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me.” The song, written by composer Dimitri Tiomkin, was considered to be one of the 100 greatest Western songs of all time by the Western Writers of America. Throughout the 60s, Martin also starred in spy movie parodies as Matt Helm. Martin abandoned the series, though, after his co-star, Sharon Tate, was murdered.

His Legacy

In 1996, Ohio Route 7 via Steubenville was renamed as Dean Martin Boulevard. In 2005, Clark County in Nevada renamed a portion of Industrial Road as Dean Martin Drive. In 2004, Martin’s family was presented a gold record for “Dino: The Essential Dean Martin,” which was his fastest-selling album. It also hit the iTunes Top 10, and in 2006 it became certified as “Platinum.”

Frank Sinatra with Joe Bishop, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford performing in 1971.
Frank Sinatra with Joe Bishop, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford performing in 1971. Photo by Globe Photos / Shutterstock

On December 23, 2006, the famous Dean Martin and Martina McBride duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” got to number 7 on the R&R AC chart. The last time Martin had a song this high on the charts was in 1965, with his song “I Will,” which got to number 10.

Popular Culture

A number of Martin’s songs have been featured in popular culture for decades. Songs like “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” “Sway,” “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,” “That’s Amore,” and “Everybody Loves Somebody” have all been in movies. Some of those films include Oscar-winning Logorama, A Bronx Tale, Casino, Goodfellas, Payback, Mission: Impossible, Moonstruck, Vegas Vacation, Swingers, and Return to Me.

Dean Martin with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show circa 1970.
Dean Martin with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show circa 1970. Photo by NBC-Tv / Kobal / Shutterstock

His songs are also featured in television series like American Dad!, Friends, The Sopranos, House MD and Samurai Jack. Think it’s just film and TV? Nope. His legacy lives on in video games, too! Video games such as The Godfather: The Game, The Godfather II, Fallout: New Vegas and Mafia II all feature his music.

He Lives On in Vegas

Danny Gans played Dean Martin in the 1992 miniseries called ‘Sinatra.’ Martin was then portrayed by Joe Mantegna in the 1998 movie about Sinatra, and Martin called it The Rat Pack. Mantegna was nominated for an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award for that role. Jeremy Northam later portrayed Martin in the 2002 TV movie ‘Martin and Lewis,’ with Sean Hayes (from Will and Grace) as Jerry Lewis.

Jeremy Northam and Sean Hayes as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in ‘Martin and Lewis’, 2002.
Jeremy Northam and Sean Hayes as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in ‘Martin and Lewis’, 2002. Source: IMDB

In keeping with Martin’s Vegas legacy, Martin is the subject of video slot machines found in many casinos on the strip. The games are called Dean Martin’s Wild Party and Dean Martin’s Vegas Shindig. These games feature songs by Martin, which play during the bonus feature and the count-up of your winnings (if you win at all).

That’s All Folks

In 1998, MTV’s animated show ‘Celebrity Deathmatch’ had a clay-animated boxing match – a fight to the death between Martin and Jerry Lewis. Martin won by whacking Jerry out of the ring. Again, it was an animated show. Then there was The Rat Pack: Live from Las Vegas, which was a successful tribute show featuring Dean Martin impersonators. The show occurred in Europe and North America since 2000.

The Rat Pack: Live from Las Vegas with Thimothy Sell as Dean Martin, Chris Mann as Frank Sinatra, and Michael Harris as Sammy Davis Jr.
The Rat Pack: Live from Las Vegas with Thimothy Sell as Dean Martin, Chris Mann as Frank Sinatra, and Michael Harris as Sammy Davis Jr. Photo by Adrian C Nitu / imageBROKER / Shutterstock

So that’s all, folks. I hope you enjoyed the journey we took through Dean Martin’s life. It’s always fun to find out who people really are behind the lights, the scenes, and the microphones. Who knew that Hollywood’s king of cool was such a square! But a great-looking talented square at that.

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