Legendary actor and activist, Sidney Poitier died today at the age of 94. Born in 1927, Sidney Poitier was the first black man to win the Academy Award in 1964. Known for his incredible poise and elegance on screen and off, Sidney Poitier often took roles that dealt with themes of race and social change. From his academy award-winning role in “Lilies of the Field” to his work in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “In the Heat of the Night,” Sidney Poitier chose roles that allowed him to play more dignified characters instead of stereotypical roles offered to black actors during that time.
Sidney Poitier faced many obstacles in the early days of his career. Unable to read, Poitier learned language, grammar, and comprehension while working as a dishwasher at a restaurant from a fellow waiter. HE eventually joined the American Negro Theatre where he worked as an understudy to fellow actor Harry Belafonte. The two would go on to become great friends. His work at the American Negro Theatre eventually caught the eye of Hollywood and Broadway, where he began a career that spanned over 4 decades.
Sidney Poitier was more than an actor. He was an outspoken activist. Often teaming up with his friend, Harry Belafonte, Poitier campaigned for equality and civil rights. His filmography aligned with his personal beliefs that he refused to play roles he felt were demeaning or stereotypical.
Nearly 40 years after accepting the Oscar, Sidney Poitier was awarded an honorary Oscar from the academy the same night, Denzel Washington won for his role in “Training Day”. During his tribute to the iconic actor, Washington said, “Forty years, I have been chasing Sidney. I will always be chasing you, Sidney. I will always be following in your footsteps. There’s nothing I’d rather do, sir.”
Regarded as the standard for black actors, the tributes poured in on social media as celebrities learned of his passing.
“He showed us how to reach for the stars. My condolences to his family and to all of us as well.”-Whoopi Goldberg
“What a beautiful, gracious, warm, genuinely regal man. RIP, Sir. With love.”-Jeffrey Wright
“#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.”-Debbie Allen
His cause of death was not immediately known as of the time of publication. Sidney Poitier is survived by his wife, Joanna Shimkus and six daughters.