Dean Martin: Remembering ‘Dino’ On The 20th Anniversary Of His Death

Dean Martin died 20 years ago on Christmas Day from heart failure. The Rat Pack member is remembered every year at a festival in his hometown of Steubenville, Ohio. Martin, affectionately known as “Dino” not only grabbed a microphone and sang on stage to the delight of screaming women during the 1950s, but also starred in a vast array of television specials, variety shows, and movies. Dean, 78 when he passed away, appeared to move with ease from wearing a tuxedo and singing on stage with Frank Sinatra to donning a cowboy hat and shooting bad guys in hist western movies with John Wayne.

Martin’s hugely successful variety show ran from 1965 to 1974. Dean reportedly enforced a one rehearsal only rule for each episode of his show. The renowned singer and actor once told reporters that the reason his show was so popular was because it featured him being him up on stage, not a tightly-scripted episode.

Dean Martin ‘Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime’ Video

“You take everybody else on TV–they’re puttin’ on an act, playin’ something they aren’t. But when people tune me in, they know they’re getting Dean Martin,” the Rat Pack member added. “To become half a success in what you do, you have to enjoy it or else you become a griper. The good Lord gave me a talent and I’ll use it until I run dry.”

The crooner was born Dino Paul Crocetti. He was the son of an Italian immigrant barber; he only spoke Italian until he was 5-years-old. After getting bored with his school his sophomore year, he dropped out of school and took up boxing, IMDB notes. Later in life, Martin said that he was embarrassed by his lack of a high school diploma and poor grammar skills. He boxed under the moniker, “Kid Crocetti” and scarred his hands permanently while attempting to make a living at the sport.

Dean Martin and the Rat Pack Live on Stage

During this stage of his younger years, Dean Martin also worked in a steel mill, bootlegging whiskey, as a soda jerk, and stole hubcaps. He eventually wound up in the gambling mecca of his northern Ohio region known as “Little Chicago.” He worked as a roulette stickman and at the blackjack table. The gamblers reportedly enjoyed hearing him hum a tune while he raked in their money for the house. Just for the fun of it, he began singing after work with a local band at Walker’s Cafe.

The first time he got paid to sing was in Columbus, Ohio billed as Dino Martini. Martin said that he chose the name because it resembled one of a popular opera singer of the era. The honest money he made, about $50 a week, was about the same amount he said he could have easily stolen from the gambling rooms during the same time span. When he was offered a singing contract in Cleveland, the now famous name of Dean Martin was born.

“Dad was so handsome, so debonair. They [agents] just thought, ‘We’ll put a drink in his hand and a cigarette.’ Every man wanted to be him, and every woman wanted to be with him,” his daughter Deanna Martin, also a singer, said during an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Dean Martin in Rio Bravo – Video

The daughter of Dean Martin also said that he was sipping apple juice on stage instead of whiskey. Sinatra and his fellow Rat Pack buddies often joked about Martin being tipsy during their nightclub performances. “He would be home for dinner every night. He would come home, and he and mom would have their one cocktail at the bar. He was kind,” Deanna added. “He was so different from what everybody thought he was. There was no one who could do Dean Martin better than Dean Martin.”

During World War II, Dean Martin was drafted into the service, but he was honorably discharged after 14 months due to a hernia. Although Martin was known to throw a great party, especially on New Year’s Eve, friends said that it was not unusual for the sometimes loner to quietly slip away and go on up to bed fairly early in the evening.

Dean Martin was married three times. He and his first wife, Elizabeth McDonald, were married from 1940 to 1949 and had four children together; Craig, Claudia, Gail and Deanna. He married Jeanne Beigger in 1950 and the couple divorced in 1972. Martin and Beigger had three children together; Dean Jr. (also known as Dino), Ricci and Gina. In 1973, he married Cathy Hawn, but they divorced in 1976.

Dean Martin, Jr. was an Air Force National Guard Captain. The crooner’s namesake was killed during a jet fighter crash in 1987. Many friends and loved ones believe that Dino was never able to recover from the death of his son.

“With all the children and grandchildren, I’m old,” Dean Martin laughingly said when he turned 67. “But I don’t feel old. Death don’t come to me. I’m not going.”

Martin was often plagued by ulcers, but remained in fairly good physical shape and health, golfing almost daily, until the 1990s. He stopped performing about three years before his death and reportedly lived out his final years in solitude.

[Image via AP Photo]