Sidney Poitier Has Passed Away At Age 94
One of Hollywood’s greatest actors, Sir Sidney Poitier, has died. He was 94 years old. Poitier starred in such films as In The Heat Of The Night, Blackboard Jungle, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, and They Call Me Mister Tibbs!. Poitier also directed Uptown Saturday Night and Let’s Do It Again—two films he also starred in alongside Bill Cosby. He later called the shots for Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in Stir Crazy. Poitier is celebrated as the first Black performer to win a “Best Actor” Academy Award, for 1963’s Lilies On The Field. His passing was confirmed by Eugene Torchon-Newry, acting director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Bahamas. No other details, including cause of death, were provided.
Though born in Miami, Florida, Poitier was raised in the Bahamas, where his family lived. As a teenager, he relocated to the States—first in South Florida, then New York City, where he pursued acting. By the 1950s, Sidney became a star of the screen. His films, such as Blackboard Jungle, often dealt with racial tensions and social issues reflective of times in America and beyond.
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Poitier’s off-screen commitment to racial equality is reflected in his roles. In 1964, Poitier’s lead role in Lilies On The Field earned him a “Best Actor” Oscar in a field of competition that included Paul Newman and Rex Harrison. 1967’s In The Heat Of The Night saw Poitier’s “Virgil Tibbs” character respond to a racist slap from a white character with the same in an iconic exchange. The film spawned two sequels, centered around Poitier’s character. That same year he played a Black man in an interracial relationship with a white woman in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, opposite Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.
By the 1970s, Poitier moved behind the lens. His second film, 1973’s Uptown Saturday Night, starred Sidney, Bill Cosby, and Harry Belafonte. The film featured Richard Pryor and Flip Wilson. Its impact resonated through Hip-Hop, spawning the name of Camp Lo’s 1997 debut album. Though their character names shifted, Poitier and Cosby maintained the chemistry in 1975’s Let’s Do It Again and 1977’s A Piece Of The Action. The first of the sequels featured a Curtis Mayfield and Staple Singers soundtrack. It also features a character, “Biggie Smalls,” that spawned the original name that The Notorious B.I.G. tried to use for his career. The film and soundtrack inspired The Jungle Brothers to make “Because I Got It Like That,” initially intended for Prince. During this period, in 1974, Poitier was granted knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II.
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In the 1980s, Poitier published his first of two autobiographies. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Poitier took several roles and directing opportunities. He later won a Grammy Award for “Best Spoken Word Album” for The Measure Of A Man, his second memoir. He accepted a Kennedy Center Honor in 1995 and a 2001 honorary Academy Award.
Poitier is survived by his spouse, Joanna Shimkus, and six children.