Sidney Poitier, Groundbreaking Black Actor, Dies at 94

Poitier was the first Black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1963.

Sidney Poitier, barrier-breaking Hollywood actor, has died at the age of 94. Poitier’s death was confirmed by Eugene Torchon-Newry, the acting director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Bahamas, where Poitier grew up. 

No further information was given about his death. 

Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper told ABC News he was "conflicted with great sadness and a sense of celebration when I learned of the passing of Sir Sidney Poitier.

"Sadness that he would no longer be here to tell him how much he means to us, but celebration that he did so much to show the world that those from the humblest beginnings can change the world and that we gave him his flowers while he was with us,” Cooper told the news outlet. 

Poitier, who became the first Black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1963 for his performance in “Lilies of the Field,” became popular for rejecting film roles that portrayed racist stereotypes. 

He often portrayed intelligent Black men during the 1960s when Black people were often not being portrayed as such. He said he felt a responsibility to display Black excellence in films like “A Patch of Blue,” “To Sir, With Love,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

“I felt very much as if I were representing 15, 18 million people with every move I made,” Poitier once said of the roles he played. 

Poitier became one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood at the time. Still, he faced discrimination in the roles that he was offered. He was not cast in any romantic lead roles at the time, to which he said: 

“To think of the American Negro male in romantic social-sexual circumstances is difficult, you know… And the reasons why are legion and too many to go into.”

Poitier was born in Miami in February 1927 to Bahamian parents while they were visiting the state, but grew up in the Bahamas. He moved back to the U.S. when he was 15, and ended up living in New York City.  He eventually joined the North American Negro Theatre.

He had his first film role in 1950 in “No Way Out.” Eventually, he nabbed a breakout role in the film “Blackboard Jungle.” Within a few years he was a Hollywood staple. 

Poitier retired from film in 1997 and began serving as the non-resident Bahamian ambassador to Japan, and did so until 2007.

In 2002, Poitier received an honorary Oscar for all of his accomplishments in the film industry.  President Barack Obama also presented Poitier residential Medal of Freedom in 2009. 

Poitier is survived by six daughters and his current wife Joanna Shimkus.

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