Sidney Poitier, One of Hollywood’s First Black Leading Men, Dies At 94
Legendary actor, film director, activist and diplomat Sidney Poitier has died yesterday at the age of 94. He was one of the greatest stars of ’60s Hollywood, with some of his best roles being in dramas that reflected racial and social tensions of the period.
Poitier was born in the Bahamas to Evelyn (née Outten) and Reginald James Poitier. He was the youngest of seven children and grew up in extreme poverty on a farm in Cat Island. He eventually moved to Miami, and then New York, by the age of 16.
He worked as a dishwasher and had a brief stint in the Army before beginning his acting career in a production at the American Negro Theater. Poitier continued to act on stage for a decade, before landing his first starring film role in No Way Out (1950) and became a household name by the late ’50s.
Poitier gained acclaim for characters such as escaped prisoner Noah Cullen in The Defiant Ones (1958), police detective Virgil Tibbs in In The Heat of the Night (1967), and Younger family patriarch Walter in A Raisin In The Sun (1961).
He was the first black man and Bahamian to win the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1963. He has also won a Golden Globe Award, Kennedy Center Honor, and an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.
While his career was revolutionary and changed Hollywood’s perception of the roles black actors could play, he was also criticized by some for pandering to white studio heads and audiences by taking typecast roles.
Poitier also directed several successful studio films primarily in the 1970s and even served as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2007.
Poitier lived in Upstate New York and the Bahamas. He is survived by his wife Joanna Shimkus, six daughters Beverly, Pamela, Sherri, Gina, Anika, and Sydney Tamila. He also had eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
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