Sidney Poitier, the first Black male and Bahamian thespian to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, has died. He was 94.
Eyewitness News Bahamas broke the news on Twitter, reporting that Sir Sidney’s death was confirmed by The Honorable Frederick Mitchell, the Bahamian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Public Service.
Poitier was born February 20, 1927 in Miami, Florida, while his parents were visiting from Nassau, Bahamas where he grew up. At the age of 15, he was sent back to Miami to live with his brother’s family and eventually made his way to New York City where he earned his keep as a dishwasher in Harlem. In November of 1943, Poitier lied about his age and enlisted in the Army during World War II at just 16 years of age.
After returning from service, Poitier joined the American Negro Theater but because he was tone deaf and unable to sing, his performances were met with less than favorable reviews. Undeterred, Poitier spent six months honing his acting skills and learning how to minimize his Bahamian accent which led to a leading role in the Broadway production Lysistrata and an invitation to understudy for Anna Lucasta.
By the late 1940s, Poitier received considerably more roles and in 1958 he starred alongside Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones, becoming the first Black male actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. In 1959, he starred in the first theater production of A Raisin in the Sun and Porgy & Bess, earning a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. He received another Golden Globe nomination for the film adaption of A Raisin in the Sun in 1961, and in 1963, he won the groundbreaking Academy Award for Best Actor for Lilies of the Field.
The year 1967 is considered the commercial peak of Poitier’s career with the actor starring in To Sir, with Love, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. From the 1970s-1990s, he went on to direct and star in several feature films. His last acting credit is in 2006’s Deadly Pursuit.
Poitier married his first wife, Juanita Hardy, in 1950 and they raised their four daughters in Stuyvesant, New York. The two divorced in 1965 and he married his second wife, Joanna Shimkus, with whom he has two daughters, on January 23, 1976. He also has eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Last February Arizona State University (ASU) established The Sidney Poitier New American Film School in his honor, naming Cheryl Boone Isaacs as Director. At the time of his death, he was the oldest living man to have won the Academy Award for Best Actor.