Sidney Poitier dead at 94; legendary, Oscar-winning actor broke racial barriers in Hollywood

January 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sidney Poitier, the first black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor, died at his home in the Bahamas on January 6, 2022. He was 94. According to the Associated Press, the announcement was made by Eugene Torchon-Newry, acting director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Bahamas.

Born in Miami on February 20, 1927, Poitier was the son of tomato farmers from the Bahamas, where was raised. Poitier moved back to Miami age 15, and he began his acting career in his 20s. He made his feature-film debut in the 1950 drama “No Way Out,” in which he played a doctor who has to give medical treatment to a white racist. It set the tone for many of his subsequent film roles where he played characters who did not fall into negative stereotypes of black men and were career professionals but also had to deal with racism. Poitier also became one of the first black men to have a leading role in major studio Hollywood movies.

His most notable movies include 1959’s “The Defiant Ones” (for which he earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor), 1961’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” 1963’s “Lilies of the Field” (for which he won the Oscar for Best Actor), 1965’s “A Patch of Blue” and the 1967 movies “In the Heat of the Night,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” and “To Sir, With Love.” His other well-known films included 1970’s “They Call Me Mister Tibbs!” (a spinoff to “In the Heat of the Night”), 1988’s “Shoot to Kill,” 1992’s “Sneakers” and 1997’s “The Jackal.”

Poitier also branched out into directing movies, such as 1972’s “Buck and the Preacher,” 1974’s “Uptown Saturday Night” and 1975’s “Let’s Do It Again.” He had co-starring roles in those three films. Poitier also directed 1980’s “Stir Crazy,” starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. Poitier’s last on-screen acting role was in the 2001 TV-movie “The Last Brickmaker in America.”

In addition to his work in film and television, Poitier was a humanitarian and an ambassador. From 1997 to 2007, he was ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan. From 2002 to 2007, Poitier was ambassador of the Bahamas to UNESCO. He received numerous prestigious accolades, including a British knighthood in 1974, a Kennedy Center Honor in 1995, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. In 2002, he received an honorary Academy Award (a non-competitive prize for career achievement), in the same year that Denzel Washington became the second black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor and Halle Berry became the first black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress.

Poitier was married twice. His first marriage to Juanita Harris, which lasted from 1950 to 1965, ended in divorce. He married his second wife, Joanna Shimkus, in 1976. During and after his first marriage, Poitier was romantically involved with actress Diahann Carroll, from 1959 to 1968. Poitier is survived by his widow and his six daughters: Beverly, Pamela, Sherri and Gina (from his first marriage) and Anika and Sydney Tamiia (from his second marriage). He is also survived by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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