Groundbreaking actor, director, and philanthropist Sidney Poitier has died at the age of 94, confirmed by the press secretary for the Bahamas’ deputy prime minister. The cause of death was not disclosed, but Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis announced in a press conference that the Bahamian flag would be lowered at half-mast to pay tribute to Poitier.
In a statement, Davis learned “with great sadness” the passing of “The boy who moved from the tomato farm on Cat Island, to moving and becoming a waiter in the United States, a young man who not only taught himself to read and write but who made words and thoughts and feelings central to his career. The man who expressed his rage against racial injustice through quiet dignity. The humanitarian, who used a steely determination, to not just better himself, but better the world he lived in.”
Poitier was the first Black man to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal in Ralph Nelson’s Lillies on the Field (1963). He was also nominated for Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones (1958) and received an Honorary Oscar in 2001. Poitier also starred in a slew of revered films, including Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1968), one of the first movies to depict the subject of interracial marriage in a positive light, as it was still illegal, six months before the film was released, in 17 states. The film In The Heat of the Night (1967) won the Academy Award for Best Picture, with Poitier playing Virgi Tibbs, one of his most acclaimed film roles.
Poitier has also directed a few motion pictures, including Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Let’s Do It Again (1975), A Piece of the Action (1977), and Stir Crazy (1980), the latter of which starred Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in their second film collaboration.
In 1974, Poitier was awarded as Knight Commander by the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2009.
On Poitier’s death, the 44th President said that Sidney Poitier “epitomized dignity and grace, revealing the power of movies to bring us closer together” and “opened doors for a generation of actors.”
Actor Jeffrey Wright said that Poitier was “one of a kind” and a “landmark actor.”
Film critic Rendy Jones expressed that Poitier “gave many Black artists their spark because of how he broke barriers in during the Golden Age of Hollywood.”
Director William Friedkin said that he has lost his “dear friend and America has lost one of its greatest actors.”
Source: The Hollywood Reporter