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Award-winning actor Sir Sidney Poitier dies at 94

Poitier broke various Hollywood barriers in the 1950s and 1960s and became the first Black man to win an Oscar for best actor for his role in Lilies of the Field in 1964

Sir Sidney Poitier in A Raisin in the Sun
Sir Sidney Poitier in A Raisin in the Sun | Public Domain

January 7, 2022 4:54pm

Updated: January 7, 2022 9:43pm

Award-winning Bahamian-American actor, Sir Sidney Poitier whose prolific 71-year career included roles in iconic Hollywood films such as “Lilies of the Field,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” and “Uptown Saturday Night” died on Friday at the age of 94.

The news was announced by Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell, The Independent reported, and Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis announced that he will hold a press conference in tribute of Poitier on Friday morning.

Poitier who was born in Miami but grew up in the Bahamas broke various Hollywood barriers in the 1950s and 1960s and became the first Black man to win an Oscar for best actor for his role in "Lilies of the Field" in 1964.

In 1967, Poitier starred in three films that addressed the issue of race relations: "To Sir, with Love," "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner" and "In the Heat of the Night."

Because the characters he played tended to respond to racial injustice with quiet resolution, many civil rights leaders ultimately turned on Poitier, accusing him of being an “Uncle Tom.”

By meeting hatred with openness and a spirit of forgiveness, however, he sent a reassuring message to white audiences and ultimately paved the way for countless Black actors in Hollywood.

“It’s a choice, a clear choice,” Mr. Poitier said in a 1967 interview. “If the fabric of the society were different, I would scream to high heaven to play villains and to deal with different images of Negro life that would be more dimensional. But I’ll be damned if I do that at this stage of the game.”

But prominent Black actors such as Denzel Washington have always praised Poitier for his role in the racial integration of Hollywood.

After becoming the second Black man to win best actor, for his role in “Training Day,” Washington said, “I’ll always be chasing you, Sidney. I’ll always be following in your footsteps. There’s nothing I would rather do, sir.”

In an interview published on Thursday, Washington told Variety that he would have loved to have starred in a film alongside Poitier, who retired from acting in 2001. “God bless him  He’s still here, but yeah, I missed that opportunity,” the actor said.

Actor Jeffrey Wright was one of many prominent figures to take to Twitter on Friday to honor the late actor, writing, “Sidney Poitier. What a landmark actor. One of a kind. What a beautiful, gracious, warm, genuinely regal man. RIP, Sir. With love.”

Poitier received the Kennedy Center Honor in 1995 and an received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2009. In 2016, Poitier was also awarded a BAFTA fellowship.

He was also awarded a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974.  

Poitier is survived by six children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.