Sidney Poitier, who broke through racial barriers as the first Black winner of the best actor Oscar for his role in “Lilies of the Field,” and inspired a generation during the civil rights movement, has died at age 94, Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis said on Friday according to BBC.
“It is with great sadness that I learned this morning of the passing of Sir Sidney Poitier,” Davis said in a speech broadcast on Facebook. “But even as we mourn, we celebrate the life of a great Bahamian: a cultural icon, an actor and film director, an entrepreneur, civil and human rights activist and, latterly, a diplomat.”
Poitier created a distinguished film legacy in a single year with three 1967 films at a time when segregation prevailed in much of the United States.
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.
In “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” he played a Black man with a white fiancee and “In the Heat of the Night” he was Virgil Tibbs, a Black police officer confronting racism during a murder investigation. He also played a teacher in a tough London school that year in “To Sir, With Love.”
Poitier had won his history-making best actor Oscar for “Lilies of the Field” in 1963, playing a handyman who helps German nuns build a chapel in the desert. Five years before that Poitier had been the first Black man nominated for a lead actor Oscar for his role in “The Defiant Ones.”
His Tibbs character from “In the Heat of the Night” was immortalized in two sequels – “They Call Me Mister Tibbs!” in 1970 and “The Organization” in 1971 – and became the basis of the television series “In the Heat of the Night” starring Carroll O’Connor and Howard Rollins.
His other classic films of that era included “A Patch of Blue” in 1965 in which his character was befriended by a blind white girl, “The Blackboard Jungle” and “A Raisin in the Sun,” which Poitier also performed on Broadway.
“If you wanted the sky i would write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand feet high.. To Sir… with Love Sir Sidney Poitier R.I.P. He showed us how to reach for the stars,” Whoopi Goldberg, Oscar winning actress and TV host, wrote on Twitter.
“The dignity, normalcy, strength, excellence and sheer electricity you brought to your roles showed us that we, as Black folks, mattered!!!,” Oscar winner Viola Davis tweeted.
Poitier was born in Miami on Feb. 20, 1927, and raised on a tomato farm in the Bahamas, and had just one year of formal schooling. He struggled against poverty, illiteracy and prejudice to become one of the first Black actors to be known and accepted in major roles by mainstream audiences.
Poitier picked his roles with care, burying the old Hollywood idea that Black actors could appear only in demeaning contexts as shoeshine boys, train conductors and maids.
“I love you, I respect you, I imitate you,” Denzel Washington, another Oscar winner, once told Poitier at a public ceremony.
Poitier was knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1974 and served as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan and to UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency. He also sat on Walt Disney Co’s board of directors from 1994 to 2003.
Check out the reactions below.
The prime minister of the Bahamas, Philip Davis, has ordered Bahamian flags in the country and at its embassies around the globe to be lowered to half-staff in tribute to Sidney Poitier. “Our country is in mourning,” he said. https://t.co/RCXdTS9wDa pic.twitter.com/J2kGCD4xT4
— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 7, 2022
REMEMBERING AN ICON: Sidney Poitier, the Oscar-winning actor who brought a quiet dignity to his characters on screen and helped break down the color barrier in Hollywood, has died. He was 94 years old. https://t.co/0rzhgQWx8L pic.twitter.com/iGgt6lgwYG
— ABC News (@ABC) January 7, 2022
— chivothegoat (@4realzdoh) January 7, 2022
— Edifying Teachers (@EdifyTeachers) January 7, 2022