Sir Sidney Poitier, Trailblazing Hollywood Icon, Dies at 94

by Leanne Stahulak

Sir Sidney Poitier, a Hollywood legend and the first black man to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, died at 94.

According to The Daily Mail, the Bahamas’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fred Mitchell, confirmed Poitier’s death Friday morning. At this time, we do not know the cause of death.

On Feb 20, 1927, Poitier was born prematurely to Bahamian parents who were vacationing in the U.S. Though he grew up in the Bahamas, Poitier ended up returning to the U.S. as a teen where he enlisted in the Army. He served in a medical unit at the time, according to NBC News.

Sidney Poitier got his start in acting in 1946, after moving to New York. He starred in a Broadway production of “Lysistrata,” and made his feature film debut in 1950. From then on, he starred in several films, but his big break came in 1958. “The Defiant Ones” put Poitier on the map, leading to his first Oscar nomination in 1958. And his eventual Oscar win in 1964.

The actor’s role in “Lilies of the Field” secured Poitier his first Academy Award for Best Actor. He would go on to win another honorary Oscar win in 2002, the year Denzel Washington became the second black man to win Best Actor.

Sidney Poitier would receive many nominations over the years, including 10 Golden Globes, two Primetime Emmys, six BAFTAs, eight Laurels, and one Screen Actors Guild Awards nomination. And those are just the ones in the film industry.

In 1974, Queen Elizabeth II of England awarded him a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Fast forward to 1995, and Sidney Poitier received the Kennedy Center Honor. And most recently, in 2009, former President Barack Obama awarded the actor with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Sidney Poitier’s Prominent Film History

Aside from “The Defiant Ones” and “Lillies of the Field,” several other films truly defined Sidney Poitier’s film history.

The 1965 film “A Patch of Blues” only further solidified Poitier’s Hollywood standing. He followed that up with stellar performances in “To Sir, with Love,” “In the Heat of the Night,” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” all in 1967. Over the course of 50 years, Sidney Poitier would go on to star in 55 different films or TV series.

But in the 1970s, Poitier decided to try working behind the camera as well. His acting gigs slowed down from then on out as Poitier tried his hand at directing, writing, and producing. In 1980, he even directed the hit buddy-comedy “Stir Crazy” featuring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.

Sidney Poitier retired from the film industry in the early 2000s. But in the last two decades of his life, he wrote several books and even served as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan.