... "Dino" was 78 years old when he passed away on Christmas Day in 1995.
Born Dino Paul Crocetti on June 7, 1917 in Steubenville, Ohio, Dean Martin's nickname was the "King of Cool." he was a major star in four areas of show business: concerts, night clubs, recordings, motion pictures, and television, and a member of the "Rat Pack" along with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford.
Martin's hit singles included "Memories Are Made of This," "That's Amore," "Everybody Loves Somebody," "Mambo Italiano," "Sway," "Volare" and smash hit "Ain't That a Kick in the Head?"
Martin spoke only Italian until he started school. He took up the drums as a hobby as a teenager. He was the target of much ridicule for his broken English and ultimately dropped out of Steubenville High School in the 10th grade. He delivered bootleg liquor, served as a speakeasy croupier, was a blackjack dealer, worked in a steel mill and boxed as welterweight. He grew up a neighbor to Jimmy the Greek.
At the age of 15, he was a boxer who billed himself as "Kid Crochet." Of his twelve bouts, he would later say "I won all but eleven."
Wisely, Martin gave up boxing. He worked as a roulette stickman and croupier in an illegal casino behind a tobacco shop where he had started as a stock boy. At the same time, he sang with local bands. Calling himself "Dino Martini," he got his first break working for the Ernie McKay Orchestra. He sang in a crooning style influenced by Harry Mills of the Mills Brothers, and other popular singers of the time. In the early 1940s, he started singing for bandleader Sammy Watkins, who suggested he change his name to Dean Martin.
Martin worked for various bands throughout the early 1940s, mostly on looks and personality until he developed his own singing style. Martin famously flopped at the Riobamba, a high class nightclub in New York, when he succeeded Frank Sinatra in 1943, but it was the setting for their meeting.
By 1946, Martin was doing relatively well, but was still little more than an East Coast nightclub singer with a common style, similar to that of Bing Crosby. He drew audiences to the clubs he played, but he inspired none of the fanatic popularity enjoyed by Sinatra.
Martin seemed destined to remain on the nightclub circuit until he met a comic named Jerry Lewis at the Glass Hat Club in New York, where both men were performing. Martin and Lewis formed a fast friendship which led to their participation in each other's acts and the ultimate formation of a music-comedy team. More than a few people dubbed them "The Organ Grinder and the Monkey."
Martin and Lewis's official debut together occurred at Atlantic City's 500 Club on July 24, 1946. Their success, each said, was that they essentially ignored the audience and played to one another.
The team made its TV debut on the very first broadcast of CBS-TV network's Toast of the Town Program (later called the Ed Sullivan Show.) In 1949, Martin and Lewis were signed by Paramount producer Hal B. Wallis as comedy relief for the movie My Friend Irma.
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Martin and Lewis were the hottest act in America during the early 1950s, but the pace and the pressure took its toll. Most critics underestimated Martin's contribution to the team, as he had the thankless job of the straight man, and his singing had yet to develop into the unique style of his later years.
Critics praised Lewis, and while they admitted that Martin was the best partner he could have, most claimed Lewis was the real talent and could succeed with anyone. However, Lewis always praised his partner, and while he appreciated the attention he was getting, he has always said the act would never have worked without Martin. The act broke up in 1956, 10 years to the day from the first official teaming.
Splitting up their partnership was not easy. It took months for lawyers to work out the details of terminating many of their club bookings, their television contracts, and the dissolution of York Productions. There was intense public pressure for them to stay together.
Lewis had no trouble maintaining his film popularity alone, but Martin, unfairly regarded by much of the public and the motion picture industry as something of a spare tire, found the going hard. His first solo film, Ten Thousand Bedrooms in 1957, was a box office failure. He was still popular as a singer, but with rock and roll gaining in popularity, the era of the pop crooner was waning. It looked like Martin's fate was to be limited to nightclubs and to be remembered as Lewis's former partner.
Never totally comfortable in films, Martin wanted to be known as a real actor. Though offered a fraction of his former salary to co-star in a war drama, The Young Lions.
Martin the starred alongside Frank Sinatra for the first time in a highly acclaimed Vincente Minnelli drama, Some Came Running. Martin was acclaimed for his performance as Dude in Rio Bravo.
As a singer, he recorded more than 100 albums and 600 songs. His signature tune, "Everybody Loves Somebody," knocked The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" out of the number-one spot in the United States in 1964. This was followed by the similarly-styled "The Door is Still Open to My Heart," which reached number six later that year. Elvis Presley was said to have been influenced by Martin, and patterned "Love Me Tender" after his style.
For three decades, Martin was among the most popular acts in Las Vegas. Martin sang and was one of the smoothest comics in the business, benefiting from the decade of raucous comedy with Lewis.
As Martin's solo career grew, he and Frank Sinatra became close friends. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Martin and Sinatra, along with friends Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and Sammy Davis, Jr. formed the legendary Rat Pack. The Martin-Sinatra-Davis-Lawford-Bishop group referred to themselves as "The Summit" or "The Clan"(except for Sammy Davis) and never as "The Rat Pack," although this has remained their identity in the popular imagination. The men made films together and formed an important part of the Hollywood social scene in those years.
In 1965, Martin launched his weekly NBC comedy-variety series, The Dean Martin Show, which exploited his public image as a lazy, carefree boozer. There he perfected his famous laid-back persona of the half-drunk crooner suavely hitting on beautiful women with hilarious remarks that would get anyone else slapped, and making snappy if slurred remarks about fellow celebrities during his famous roasts.
In December 1990, he congratulated Frank Sinatra on his 75th birthday special. By 1991, Martin had unofficially retired from performing.
Martin, a life-long smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer at Cedars Sinai Medical Center on 16 September 1993. He died of acute respiratory failure resulting from emphysema at his Beverly Hills home on Christmas morning 1995, at the age of 78.
Martin's family was presented a gold record in 2004 for Dino: The Essential Dean Martin, his fastest-selling album ever, which also hit the iTunes Top 10. For the week ending December 23, 2006, the Dean Martin and Martina McBride duet of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" reached #7 on the R&R AC chart. It also went to #36 on the R&R Country chart - the last time Martin had a song this high in the charts was in 1965, with the song "I Will," which reached #10 on the Pop chart.
In February 2009, Martin was honored with a post-humous Grammy award for Lifetime Achievement.