Sidney Poitier, pioneering actor and activist, dies at the age of 94

Sidney Poitier, actor, filmmaker and civil rights activist, has died at the age of 94.

Bahamian Foreign Secretary Fred Mitchell announced the death of Sidney Poitier today, but details of his death were not immediately known.

Poitier is perhaps best known as the first black actor to win an Oscar for Best Actor for his role in the 1964 classic Lilies of the Field. During his productive career he achieved legendary status and starred in iconic films such as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night and To Sir With Love, among others.

Sidney Poitier starred in No Way Out.  Photo credit: 20th Century Fox.

Sidney Poitier starred in No Way Out. Photo credit: 20th Century Fox.

Poitier made his film debut in the 1950 film noir, No Way Out. After his groundbreaking role in Blackboard Jungle in 1955. Poitier’s first contact with the Oscars came in 1958 when he and co-star Tony Curtis were nominated for Best Actor in The Defiant Ones.

He won an Oscar in 1964 and has won a BAFTA for The Defiant Ones, two Golden Globes and a Grammy Award throughout his career.

Poitier eventually turned to filmmaking and continued to impress Hollywood with the likes of Stir Crazy – the iconic comedy starring Gene Wilder and Richard Prior.

Throughout his career, Poitier was known for his unwavering demands for civil rights and racial equality. He was known for rejecting roles based on objectionable racial stereotypes and instead chose to only portray dignified, intelligent black men in film.

He is said to have felt responsible for representing the excellence of blacks at a time when the vast majority of big movie stars were white. “I felt that every step I took was representing 15, 18 million people,” he said once wrote.

His most famous film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, was made when interracial marriage was still illegal in many states and was groundbreaking in its auspicious portrayal of interracial love. Guess who’s over for dinner has been remade or referenced multiple times since then by other movies and TV shows.

Katharine Houghton and Sidney Poitier in Guess Who's Coming for Dinner?  Photo credit: Columbia Pictures.

Katharine Houghton and Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner? Photo credit: Columbia Pictures.

After his historic victory in 1964, Poitier remained the only black actor to win the Oscar for best actor until 2002, until Denzel Washington. In the same year Poitier himself received the honorary Oscar “in recognition of his remarkable achievements as an artist and as a person”. . “

In addition to his legendary acting credentials, Poitier also received the Knighthood of Honor from Queen Elizabeth II in 1974 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. Between 1997 and 2007 he was also the Bahamas Ambassador to Japan.

Poitier was one of the last big stars of the Hollywood Golden Age after the death of Kirk Douglas in 2020.

Poitier leaves behind his wife Joanna Shimkus and six daughters.

Ryan Leston is an entertainment writer and film critic for IGN. You can follow him Twitter.

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