Sidney Poitier, the first Black man to win the best actor Oscar, has died at 94.
The groundbreaking actor died Thursday at his home in Los Angeles, according to Latrae Rahming, the director of communications for the Prime Minister of Bahamas.
Born in Miami, Poitier grew up on a tomato farm in the Bahamas and moved to New York at age 16. He signed up for a short stint in the army and did several odd jobs while taking acting lessons, en route to becoming a star of the stage and screen in the 1950s and 60s.
Poitier broke racial barriers in Hollywood. His appearance in “The Defiant Ones” in 1958 earned him his first Oscar nomination. Five years later, he won best actor for his lead role in “Lilies of the Field,” in which he played a handyman who helps German nuns to build a chapel in the desert.
Poitier received numerous honorary prizes, including a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute and a special Academy Award in 2002, on the same night that Black performers won both best acting awards, Washington for “Training Day” and Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball.”
Poitier had four daughters with his first wife, Juanita Hardy, and two with his second wife, actress Joanna Shimkus, who starred with him in his 1969 film “The Lost Man.” Daughter Sydney Tamaii Poitier appeared on such television series as “Veronica Mars” and “Mr. Knight.” Daughter Gina Poitier-Gouraige died in 2018.
After news of Poitier’s passing became public, tributes to the actor poured in from Hollywood and around the world. Here are just a few:
“For over 80 years, Sidney and I laughed, cried and made as much mischief as we could. He was truly my brother and partner in trying to make this world a little better. He certainly made mine a whole lot better.” — Actor Harry Belafonte, in a statement.
“It was a privilege to call Sidney Poitier my friend. He was a gentle man and opened doors for all of us that had been closed for years. God bless him and his family.” — Denzel Washington, in a statement.
“Through his groundbreaking roles and singular talent, Sidney Poitier epitomized dignity and grace, revealing the power of movies to bring us closer together. He also opened doors for a generation of actors.” — Former President Barack Obama, on Twitter.
“This is a big one. No words can describe how your work radically shifted my life. The dignity, normalcy, strength, excellence and sheer electricity you brought to your roles showed us that we, as Black folks, mattered!!! It was an honor…” — Actor Viola Davis, on Instagram.