Sidney Poitier has died at the age of 94, Eyewitness News Bahamas reported Friday. He is the first black actor ever to win an Oscar for Best Lead Actor.
The Bahamas’ Secretary of State, Fred Mitchell, confirmed the news to various media outlets. It is not known why the actor died.
Poitier was considered one of the first major black movie stars to play dramatic roles, which at the time were mainly played by white actors. With this he broke through the barriers of the Hollywood of the fifties and sixties.
Poitier grew up on Cat Island in the Bahamas. His father was a poor tomato picker and Poitier had to leave school when he was thirteen. After doing odd jobs like street vendor and military medical assistant, he auditioned for the American Negro Theater in New York. He was initially rejected for his Bahamian accent, but was admitted after speech lessons.
In 1946 he made his Broadway debut in the play Lysistrata . His film debut was in the 1950 film No Way Out , in which he played a doctor who had to treat a racist.
BREAKING: Beloved Bahamian actor and former ambassador Sir Sidney Poitier has died. He was 94. A Broadway play about the trailblazing career of the visionary actor was announced last month. Sir Sidney’s death was confirmed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell. pic.twitter.com/WVJFlog3tC
— Eyewitness News Bahamas (@ewnewsbahamas) January 7, 2022
In many of the films in which Poitier has starred, racial discrimination is the main theme. In perhaps his best-known film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), he plays the future son-in-law of a white couple. In that film, he was the first black man in a Hollywood film to kiss a white woman, albeit that the scene was filmed through the rear-view mirror of a taxi.
In the same year, the thriller In the Heat of the Night was released, in which Poitier has to compete as a detective from the north of the United States against a racist sheriff from the south. Poitier was considered the highest paid actor in the world in the late 1960s.
“It was a huge responsibility,” Poitier told Oprah Winfrey in 2000 about being one of the first successful black actors. “I accepted that, and I respected that responsibility. I had to, for the others who came after me.”
The actor was also active as a director. He worked on Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Let’s Do It Again (1975) and Piece of the Action (1977). He also played major roles in these films.
Poitier was awarded an Oscar in 1963 for his role in Lilies of the Field . In 1958 he was already nominated for the prestigious prize.
In 2002 Poitier was again awarded an Oscar: an honorary Oscar for his “outstanding performance, his unique appearance on the silver screen, his style and his intelligence as a representative of the film industry”.
In 1974 Poitier was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 2009 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-US President Barack Obama, the highest award bestowed upon US citizens.
Poitier was married to actress Joanna Shimkus (78). With her he had two children. The actor already had two children from a previous marriage.