Sidney Poitier, the groundbreaking actor who was the first Black man to win the Academy Award for best actor, has died. He was 94.
Poitier’s death was first announced by Bahamian Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell.
“It is with great sadness that I learned this morning of the passing of Sir Sidney Poitier,” he said. “Our whole Bahamas grieves and extends our deepest condolences to his family. But even as we mourn, we celebrate the life of a delightful, great Bahamian, a cultural icon, an actor and film director, a civil and human rights activist and a diplomat. We admire the man not just because of his colossal achievements, but also because of who he was: his strength of character, his willingness to stand up and be countered and the way he plotted and navigated his life’s journey.”
The Bahamian-American actor grew up a native of Cat Island until his parents sent him at age 15 to live with his brother in Miami. He went on to serve in World War II in the medical unit and, upon return, headed for New York City. After a momentary rejection from the American Negro Theatre, Poitier went on to a appear in a number of the institution’s productions and made his Broadway debut in 1946 in Lysistrata.
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The legendary actor’s film career kicked off in 1950 with No Way Out. Portraying a doctor whose patient is a bigoted white criminal, his performance established his pattern of refusing roles that evoked racist stereotypes. Poitier’s historical win finally came in 1964 for his performance as ex-GI Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field. Among his vast and rich career, Poitier’s most acclaimed films include To Sir, With Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of Night.
The outpouring of tributes across Hollywood reflect the gravity of Poitier’s impact. His commitment to acting, directing, philanthropy and activism is unrivaled, having earned him a number of accolades, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Through his groundbreaking roles and singular talent, Sidney Poitier epitomized dignity and grace, revealing the power of movies to bring us closer together,” President Barack Obama, who bestowed the honor, wrote on Twitter. “He also opened doors for a generation of actors.”
“He showed us how to reach for the stars,” Whoopi Goldberg added.
Oprah Winfrey, who considered Poitier a mentor, described his death as one of the “Great Trees” falling.
“The utmost, highest regard and praise for his most magnificent, gracious, eloquent life. I treasured him. He had an enormous soul I will forever cherish,” she wrote.
See more tributes below.
He once caught me following him. He said “little girl what do you want” I muttered “can I have your autograph”. From that day he always called me little girl and asked if I wanted his autograph. It was something we laughed about. He was my hero & great friend. May he RIP . https://t.co/yQhuiDCZse— Dionne Warwick (@dionnewarwick) January 7, 2022
Sidney Poitier pic.twitter.com/otVjSFHaw8— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) January 7, 2022
To: Sir, with Love pic.twitter.com/sohw7PfYrJ— Anita Baker (@IAMANITABAKER) January 7, 2022
We lost an elegant King today. Thank you Sidney Poitier. For not only opening the door, but for walking in this world with endless grace and excellence, so that today, still, we follow behind you, reaching toward the example that you set. Rest In Peace and in Power. We love you. pic.twitter.com/CP2ga9KiHu— kerry washington (@kerrywashington) January 7, 2022
If you wanted the sky i would write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand feet high..— Whoopi Goldberg (@WhoopiGoldberg) January 7, 2022
To Sir… with Love
Sir Sidney Poitier R.I.P.
He showed us how to reach for the stars
Sidney Poitier. What a landmark actor. One of a kind. What a beautiful, gracious, warm, genuinely regal man. RIP, Sir. With love.— Jeffrey Wright (@jfreewright) January 7, 2022
(Sam Falk/NYT) pic.twitter.com/5ZaKxxPdxw
#SidneyPoitier, your last sunset with us is the dawn of many generations rising in the path of light you blazed. We will always hold you in our hearts and forever speak your name. pic.twitter.com/hIKYCqM245— Debbie Allen (@msdebbieallen) January 7, 2022
Sidney Poitier, the first Black man to win an Oscar, has died at the age of 94. The star of “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” and “Lilies of the Field,” for which he won Best Actor, was a trailblazer who will be mourned by so many for whom he opened the very doors of Hollywood.— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) January 7, 2022
Archive Photos/Getty Images
Sir #SidneyPoitier, your brilliant light will never dim. The doors you opened and paths you created will continue to make way for those with a dream. You showed the world that with vision and grace, all is possible.— Lenny Kravitz (@LennyKravitz) January 7, 2022
Mathieu Bitton pic.twitter.com/Y0agy7P7Gg
RIP to a true gentlemen, legend, and the first African-American Academy Award winner for Best Actor Sidney Poitier. pic.twitter.com/FsKO8nQb7l— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 7, 2022
One thing that's always struck me about Sidney Poitier's life is that he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II 35 years before he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.— Franklin Leonard (@franklinleonard) January 7, 2022
RIP Sidney Poitier. I read his autobiography years ago and it was quite the inspiration. pic.twitter.com/pZYbMH85EB— Paul Wesley (@paulwesley) January 7, 2022
Sidney Poitier. An absolute legend. One of the greats. pic.twitter.com/jd2Xd7vmIJ— Joseph Gordon-Levitt (@hitRECordJoe) January 7, 2022
Rest In Peace, Sidney Poitier. He opened every door and blazed every trail for every Back entertainer who followed him. And he did it with grace. And he knew the battle wasn’t just about getting onscreen. https://t.co/rA2qqotjm8— W. Kamau Bell (@wkamaubell) January 7, 2022
Sidney Poitier starred in “In the Heat of the Night,” “To Sir, with Love,” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” in the same year — 1967. Legend. pic.twitter.com/8IUZUw8sJ2— MoneybaggHo (@KirkWrites79) January 7, 2022
Sidney Poitier, my childhood idol, lifelong inspiration & star of some of my favourite films...— Anil Kapoor (@AnilKapoor) January 7, 2022
Forever your fan & admirer…
Rest In Peace pic.twitter.com/tN3pXKxt3W
Sidney Poitier definitely made a difference. Godspeed.— Nancy Sinatra (@NancySinatra) January 7, 2022
Sidney Poitier— Be A King (@BerniceKing) January 7, 2022
Poor People's Campaign, Resurrection City, Washington, D.C., May 1968
Powerful beyond the stage and screen. pic.twitter.com/hEKRxGvoM2
Photography by: Archive Photos/Getty Images