The internet is buzzing with news iconic actor Sidney Poitier has passed away. Poitier is the first Black man to win a Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal in Lillies of the Field. He is also known for his work in groundbreaking films The Defiant Ones (1958), A Raisin in the Sun (1961), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) and In the Heat of the Night (1967),which interrogated issues of race, class, gender and social justice.
The Miami born, Bahamian-raised Poitier moved to the United States at age 15, eventually earning a role in Blackboard Jungle (1955). In a career that spanned six decades, Poitier won the best actor Oscar in 1964 for his portrayal of an ex-serviceman who helps East German nuns build a chapel in Lilies of the Field.
Poitier also worked as a director in television and film, most famously for a series of black-themed films co-starring Bill Cosby entitled Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Let’s Do It Again (1975) and A Piece of the Action (1977). Poitier directed the hit film Stir Crazy (1980) starring comedy legends Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder.
In addition to the Best Actor Academy Award, Poitier has been recognized for his excellence in the craft, civil and human rights activism, and being vocal about issues of representation on screen. Poitier, who grew up poor and left school in the 3rd grade to help his family, worked as a dishwasher. In order to pursue acting seriously, he taught himself to read beyond his 3rd grade education, dedicating himself to learning the craft of acting and filmmaking. Poitier’s investment paid off in dividends.
In 1974, Poitier was made an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) by Queen Elizabeth II. He also received a Kennedy Center Honor (1995), the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama (2009), Golden Globe Awards for Lillies of the Field (1964), The 1982 Golden Globes Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement and a Grammy-award for narrating his autobiography, “The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography,” published in 2000. Poitier, a dual citizen of the Bahamas and the United States, was appointed Bahamian ambassador to Japan in 1997 by President Bill Clinton. He served in that capacity until 2007.
Poitier shares four children with his first wife Juanita Hardy, to whom he was married from 1950 to 1965. In 1976, the celebrated actor married former Canadian actress Joanna Shimkus, with whom he shares two daughters including actress Sydney Poitier. He is survived by Joanna, his wife of 45 years, five daughters and a host of grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his daughter Gina Poitier-Gouraige, who passed away in 2018. No cause of death has been given for the legendary actor’s death. He was 94.
This news article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.