HOLLYWOOD—On Friday, January 7, actor Sidney Poitier who made history becoming the first Black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor for his role in “Lilies in the Field” died. Poitier died at his home in Los Angeles surrounded by family. Poitier got his start in the entertainment industry by joining the American Negro Theater. He made his big screen debut in the drama “No Way Out.”
It was his breakout role in “The Defiant Ones” alongside Tony Curtis that earned Poitier rave reviews including his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. The success of that film led to his starring role in the Broadway play, “A Raisin in the Sun” alongside Ruby Dee, that was later adapted for the big screen where he earned a Golden Globe nomination. After his Oscar-winning role in “Lilies in the Field,” Poitier continued to star in major Hollywood films including “The Bedford Incident,” “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and “A Patch of Blue.”
The year 1967 was a important year for Poitier, who starred in three major films that all saw major success at the box-office. Those films included, “To Sir, With Love,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Poitier won rave reviews for all three films, however, did not earn Oscar nominations for his performance in either of the films. He has an iconic line in “In the Heat of the Night” where he responds after being called the N-word by saying, “They call me Mr. Tibbs.” All three films tackled racial issues in the country, with “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” earning Best Picture nominations, with “In the Heat of the Night” winning the Best Picture Oscar in 1967.
He received an Honorary Academy Award in 2002, the same year that Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won Oscars for Best Actor “Training Day” and Best Actress “Monster’s Ball.” Poitier was married twice during his lifetime first to Juanita Hardy from 1950-1965 where they had four daughters and later to Joanna Shimkus, where he had two daughters.
Celebrities took to social media on Friday to share tribute to the Poitier with Denzel Washington writing in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter: “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.”
Oprah Winfrey wrote “For me, the greatest of the “Great Trees” has fallen: Sidney Poitier. My honor to have loved him as a mentor. Friend. Brother. Confidant. Wisdom teacher. The utmost, highest regard and praise for his most magnificent, gracious, eloquent life. I treasured him. I adored him. He had an enormous soul I will forever cherish. Blessings to Joanna and his world of beautiful daughters.”
His last acting role was an appearance in the TV movie “The Last Brickmaker in America” in 2001. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994. Poitier leaves behind his wife Joanna and his six daughters.