Sidney Poitier, Oscar-Winning Director and Actor, Dies at 94

Sidney Poitier was a pioneering actor and director who made him the first Black leading man to bankable status in Hollywood. He died on Thursday, according the Bahamian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Poitier, who was born in the U.S. but grew up in the Bahamas, broke multiple racial barriers in his decades-long career, including when he became the first Black actor to win the Academy Award, for his role in 1963’s “Lilies of the Field.”

From his first film performance, playing a doctor who treats a bigoted white man in 1950’s “No Way Out,”He refused to accept roles that reflected racial stereotypes. He followed his debut film by playing a minister in 1951’s “Cry, the Beloved Country,” set in apartheid-era South Africa, and then an angsty high schooler in 1954’s “The Blackboard Jungle.”

sidney poitier

Poitier picked up his first Oscar nomination for 1959’s “The Defiant Ones,”Tony Curtis and he starred together as two escaped criminals that must work together to escape the authorities. He was awarded the Best Actor trophy four years later. “Lilies of the Field,”Starring as a former GI, who helps a group Catholic nuns build a new church.

More commercial roles followed, culminating with a trifecta of commercial and critical hits in 1967 — the classroom drama “To Sir, With Love,”The crime thriller “In the Heat of the Night”The romantic drama “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” — that made Poitier the top box office draw of the year.

He also worked regularly in theater, earning a Tony Award nomination for the original 1959 production of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic drama “A Raisin in the Sun.”

Poitier’s directorial debut was with the 1972 Western “Buck and the Preacher,”In which he starred alongside Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte, and Ruby Dee. His first comedy hit was 1974’s “The Comedy of Harry Belafonte and Ruby Dee”. “Uptown Saturday Night”Belafonte with Bill Cosby. He followed this up with two more Cosby vehicles. “Let’s Do It Again”(1975) “A Piece of the Action” (1977).

sidney poitier

But his biggest box office success came with 1980’s “Stir Crazy”The film stars Gene Wilder (Gene Wilder) and Richard Pryor (as misfits). They are sent to prison by mistake. The film was released in its original release and grossed over $100 million. This is a record for a Black director.

He returned to acting in the late 1980s and ’90s with roles in thrillers like “Little Nikita” (1988), “Sneakers”(1992) With Robert Redford “The Jackal”(1997), with Bruce Willis & Richard Gere. He was also a part of TV movies as Thurgood Marshall. “Separate but Equal”(1991), He reprised his role of Mark Thackeray “To Sir, With Love II”(1996) and depicting Nelson Mandela “Mandela and de Klerk” (1997). Both of his nominations were Emmy-nominated “Separate but Equal” “Mandela and de Klerk.”

He was last seen in 2001’s TV movie. “The Last Brickmaker in America,”As a widower, you mentor troubled teens.

He was awarded an Honorary Academy Award the following year for his work.

In addition to his work in Hollywood, he served as the Bahamas’ ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2007 (he held dual citizenship with the U.S.). In 2009, he was also presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.

sidney poitier

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