Sidney Poitier, Trailblazing Hollywood Icon, Dies at 94

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NBC News:–  Sidney Poitier, the renowned Hollywood actor, director and activist who commanded the screen, reshaped the culture and paved the way for countless other Black actors with stirring performances in classics such as “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” has died, a source close to the family told NBC News on Friday.

He was 94. The actor’s cause of death was not immediately given.

In a groundbreaking film career that spanned decades, Poitier established himself as one of the finest performers in America. He made history as the first Black man to win an Academy Award for best actor and, at the height of his fame, he became a major box-office draw.

Poitier, who rejected film roles based on offensive racial stereotypes, earned acclaim for portraying dignified, keenly intelligent men in 1960s landmarks such as “Lilies of the Field,” “A Patch of Blue,” “To Sir, With Love,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

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He said he felt a responsibility to represent Black excellence at a time when the vast majority of movie stars were white and many Black performers were relegated to subservient or buffoonish roles.

He came to be seen as an elder statesmen in the film industry, celebrated for his social conscience and admired for his regal bearing.

“I felt very much as if I were representing 15, 18 million people with every move I made,” Poitier once wrote about the experience of being the only Black person on a movie set.

He won the best actor Oscar in 1964 for his depiction of an ex-serviceman who helps East German nuns build a chapel in “Lilies of the Field.” The first Black man to win that honor, he remained the only one until Denzel Washington in 2002 — the same year Poitier received an honorary Oscar “in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human.”

In the course of his public life, Poitier was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1995, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, two Golden Globe awards (including a lifetime achievement honor in 1982), and a Grammy for narrating his autobiography, “The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography,” published in 2000.

Poitier was born prematurely Feb. 20, 1927, in Miami, to Bahamian parents while they were on vacation in the United States. He grew up in the Bahamas, spending his early years around his father’s tomato farm on Cat Island before the family relocated to Nassau. The teenage Poitier returned to the U.S., where he enlisted in the U.S. Army and briefly served in a medical unit.

He eventually made his way to New York City and discovered a passion for the performing arts. He applied to the American Negro Theatre, but he was rejected because of his accent, so he spent the next several months practicing American enunciation. When he re-applied, he was accepted into the company and, in 1946, he made his Broadway debut in “Lysistrata.”

Poitier made his feature debut in the 1950 film noir “No Way Out” and the following year appeared in “Cry, the Beloved Country,” a British film set in apartheid-era South Africa. He gained greater attention in the 1955 drama “Blackboard Jungle” as a troubled but musically gifted student at an inner-city high school.

He broke through in 1958 with “The Defiant Ones,” teaming up with Tony Curtis for the tale of two escaped prisoners forced to survive while shackled together. The film was a critical smash, and Poitier and Curtis were both nominated for best actor Oscars. (They lost to David Niven for “Separate Tables.”)

“The Defiant Ones” opened up exciting career opportunities for Poitier. He drew praise as the crippled beggar Porgy in Otto Preminger’s musical “Porgy and Bess” (1959), adapted from the George Gershwin opera, and the determined Walter Lee Younger in “A Raisin in the Sun” (1961), adapted from the Lorraine Hansberry play.

In the 1960s, Poitier leveraged his Oscar win for “Lilies in the Field” and his growing national celebrity.

He refused roles based on racist caricatures and gravitated to films that celebrated the main character’s dignity, grace, intellect and honor

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Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
Our Editorial Staff at St. Lucia Times is a team publishing news and other articles to over 200,000 regular monthly readers in Saint Lucia and in over 150 other countries worldwide.

5 COMMENTS

  1. wow he is gone i remember meeting him in a nightclub in new york in 1990 i was dancing with his wife and he came over to me and said take it easy with her..thats my wife… we both laughed and i continued dancing … great guy r.i.p

  2. My greatest movies of all time, TO SIR WITH LOVE. Rest happily and peacefully for your contribution to black actors worldwide.

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