Hollywood is mourning one of its most important stars today after Sidney Poitier died Thursday at 94 years old. He was the first black actor to win a Best Actor Award. He burst through Hollywood’s color barrier with grace and poise. His career stretched 71 years where he commanded the stage, screen, and any room he was in.
Officials have not released the cause of his death.
Memorials and eulogies have filtered out since news of Sidney Poitier’s demise hit news sites.
Ron Howard, director and former actor, called Poitier “one of cinema’s greatest leading men.”
Poitier did not shy away from racial politics in his work. During the powder keg of the 1960s, he starred in To Sir, with Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night. All movies that addressed the issue of race head-on.
He became the first black man to win a Best Actor award for his role in 1964s Lilies of the Field. Denzel Washington was the next to do it in 2001 for Training Day. He paid his respects to Poitier during his acceptance speech.
“I’ll always be chasing you, Sidney,” Washington said, holding the statue tight. “I’ll always be following in your footsteps. There’s nothing I would rather do, sir.”
Sidney Poitier was born in Miami on Feb. 24, 1924, but moved to the Bahamas as a child. His family was poor and struggled to make ends meet. Sidney began acting at age 11 before he moved back to the states at 15 years old to live with an older brother.
He moved to New York at 16 to pursue an acting career.
Along with his prolific acting career, he published two autobiographies and directed several films. He was also a diplomat and statesmen.
Actors Pay Their Respect to ‘Trailblazer’ Sidney Poitier
Since news broke, hundreds of actors have come forward to discuss what Sidney Poitier meant to them and the film industry.
“What a landmark actor. One of a kind,” Jeffrey Wright tweeted in tribute. “What a beautiful, gracious, warm, genuinely regal man.”
“One of the greatest actors of all time. His ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ will always be on my top 10 film list. His line, ‘They call me Mr. Tibbs!’ heralded in Black Power in a definitive, permanent way. It sends a thrill through my bones every time I see it,” Stevie Van Zandt said in a tweet.
His impact on film can’t be overstated. He less kicked down doors as obliterated them. His talent, his charm, his charisma, made him impossible to ignore. Despite that, he still struggled to gain any recognition.
“He’s a major figure in American history because he truly represents the complete breakthrough of the Black American actor into stardom,” said Jeanine Basinger, founder of the film studies program at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.
“When he became a star,” actor James Earl Jones said, “everyone, white and Black, said, ‘I like this man.’“