Oscar-Winning Legend Sidney Poitier Has Died

Jaelani Turner-Williams Jaelani Turner-Williams is a contributing news writer for Okayplayer with…
Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives for 'Lilies of the Field' via Getty Images

Hollywood pioneer Sidney Poitier, remembered for his roles in films Lillies in the Field and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, has died at 94.

Sidney Poitier, who was a defining Black actor during the Golden Age of Hollywood, when entertainment was reluctant to embrace diversity, has died. He was 94. Clint Watson, press secretary for the Prime Minister of the Bahamas confirmed to CNN during a press conference that the actor had died in the Bahamas.

Born in Miami on February 20th, 1927, Poitier was the seventh child of a Bahamian-American family that arrived from Cat Island, Bahamas to Florida earlier that year.

Poitier spent time in both Miami and Nassau, Bahamas before relocating to Harlem in 1943 when he was 16-years-old. Joining the army as a teenager, Poitier was discharged after psychiatric care, later becoming a part of theatre group American Negro Theater. Under the guidance of actor Fredrick O’Neal, Poitier was given acting experience, losing his Bahamian accent in the process.

Touring America as theater actor as a teenager and throughout his early twenties, Poitier made his 1950 film debut in No Way Out as Dr. Luther Brooks who worked in an all-white hospital. Much like enduring racism in the role as Dr. Brooks, Poitier fought an onslaught of prejudice as an actor, but still made strides in numerous films including Red Ball ExpressLifeboatBeloved CountryA Raisin in the Sun and Lillies of the Field.

Alongside fellow Caribbean-born actor Harry Belafonte, Poitier was an ally during the Civil Rights Movement, financially supporting movement leaders and joining the 1963 March on Washington. In 1964, Poitier received an Oscar for Best Actor for his role as Homer Smith in Lillies of the Field, becoming the first Black man to win an Oscar.

Poitier’s Hollywood legacy went on to be long-revered during his life, notably by Denzel Washington, who acknowledged the legendary actor during his 2002 Oscar speech after winning Best Actor for Training Day. Poitier withdrew from acting during the 1980s and 1990s, becoming Bahamas ambassador to Japan in 1997, receiving an honorary Oscar in 2002, being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, and a BAFTA fellowship in 2016.

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