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Dean martin

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Dino Paul Crocetti was born June 17, 1917, in Steubenville, Ohio, the son of an Italian immigrant barber. For the first five years of his life, the boy spoke only Italian.

Martin worked in the steel mills, fought as a welterweight and at 16, delivered bootleg liquor around Steubenville. He also dealt cards in a gambling room behind a cigar store and began singing in clubs.

A bandleader named Sammy Watkins hired the young singer and renamed him Dean Martin. He eventually was booked into New York where his loose, mellow style began to catch on.

In 1946, Martin was booked into the 500 Club in Atlantic City, N.J., at $500 a week. Sharing the bill was a so-so comedian named Jerry Lewis who did a "record act" -- mouthing the lyrics to records by famous singers.

"We started horsing around with each other's act," Martin recalled. "We'd do anything that came to our minds, anything at all."

The zaniness caught on, and soon Martin and Lewis were playing New York's Copacabana at $5,000 a week. Nightclub and television offers followed, along with a movie contract.

They starred in a string of comedies, including "At War With the Army," "That's My Boy," "Sailor Beware," "Jumping Jacks," "The Stooge," "Scared Stiff," "Artists and Models" and "Pardners."

By the time of their last film, "Hollywood or Bust" in 1956, the two were quarreling in print. Martin quit the act.

"I was doing nothing and I was eating my heart out," he said. "I sang a song and never got to finish it. The camera would switch to Jer doing funny things. Everything was Jerry Lewis, Jerry Lewis, and I was the straight man."

In the 1970s and '80s, as Martin's film and television careers waned, he continued to be a top attraction in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and other high-roller venues. Onstage, he often sipped from a highball glass, adding to his long reputation as a boozer.

"I always watch Dean Martin's show," James Stewart once remarked, "just to see if he falls down."

Sinatra and other intimates claimed that Martin's drinking was exaggerated for joke purposes. Martin himself said he never drank to excess: "I never get drunk because I can't face the consequences. I don't like to be sick."

After a lifetime of good health, Martin ran into troubles in his 70s. In 1988, Martin dropped out of a tour with Sinatra and Davis because of a kidney condition. In 1991, he canceled an Atlantic City engagement because of what was described as intestinal flu.

Martin married three times. In 1940 he married Betty McDonald; they divorced after nine years and four children. His second marriage, to Jeanne Riegger, lasted 23 years. Among their three children was Dean Paul "Dino" Martin, member of a '60s teen pop group, Dino, Desi and Billy, and later an actor ("Players"). Young Martin was killed in a National Guard jet crash in 1987.

In 1973, Martin, then 55, married former model Catherine Mae Hawn, 25. His instructions for the champagne reception: "I gave orders that no glass should ever get lower than half-empty."


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