Type to search

National News

Oscar winner and groundbreaking star Sidney Poitier dies


Praise and accolades are pouring in from around the world following the death of trailblazing actor Sidney Poitier Friday. Admired and revered as few ever are for his monumental achievements as an actor, the groundbreaking actor died at the age of 94 at his Los Angeles home.

Poitier is credited with transforming how Black people were portrayed on screen; he became the first Black actor to win an Academy Award for best lead performance; and was the first black actor to be a top box-office draw. Through the 1960’s he embodied leadership and moral authority as he confronted racism.

Poitier won his best actor Oscar in 1964 for “Lilies of the Field” but was well known and loved for his entire body of work during a tumultuous time in the country during the 1950’s and 1960’s when it came to segregation, civil rights, and evolving race relations.

Before Poitier, Hollywood filmmakers relegated black actors to stereotypes of bug-eyed servants and grinning entertainers. They rarely attempted to tell a Black person’s story until Poitier, who had influence on and off the screen. Subjected to bigotry from whites and accusations of compromise from the Black community, Poitier held himself to a high standard above his white peers.

Stardom didn’t shield Poitier from racism and condescension. He had a tough time finding housing in Los Angeles and was followed by the Ku Klux Klan when he visited Mississippi in 1964, not long after three civil rights workers had been murdered there.

In a Newsweek interview in 1988, Poitier said, “I made films when the only other Black on the lot was the shoeshine boy. I was kind of the lone guy in town.”

His talent knew no bounds. In one role, Poitier was the escaped Black convict who befriends a racist white prisoner (Tony Curtis) in “The Defiant Ones.” In another, he was the courtly office worker who falls in love with a blind white girl in “A Patch of Blue.” In another, he was the handyman in “Lilies of the Field” who built a church for a group of nuns. In one of the great roles of the stage and screen, he was the ambitious young father whose dreams clashed with those of other family members in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” 

In 1967, Poitier had three notable movies: “To Sir, With Love,” in which he starred as a school teacher who wins over his unruly students at a London secondary school; “In the Heat of the Night,” as the determined police detective Virgil Tibbs; and in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” as the prominent doctor who wishes to marry a young white woman he only recently met, her parents played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in their final film together.  Poitier made famous one of the lines from “In the Heat of the Night.” — “They call me Mr. Tibbs!” 

Close friend Harry Belafonte and others issued statements Friday remembering Poitier.

“For over 80 years, Sidney and I laughed, cried and made as much mischief as we could,” said Belafonte. “He was truly my brother and partner in trying to make this world a little better. He certainly made mine a whole lot better.”

“This is a big one. No words can describe how your work radically shifted my life. The dignity, normalcy, strength, excellence and sheer electricity you brought to your roles showed us that we, as Black folks, mattered!!! It was an honor…,” Viola Davis wrote. “You told us, ‘If your dreams do not scare you, they’re not big enough’! I put this quote on my daughter’s wall. Rest well Mr. Poitier. Thank you! Thank you for leaving a legacy. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” 

Said Halle Berry, “In your 94 years on this planet, you left an indelible mark with your extraordinary talent, paving the way for black peoples to be seen and heard in the fullness of who we are.”

Oscar winner Morgan Freeman called Poitier “my inspiration, my guiding light, my friend.”

Oprah Winfrey said, “The greatest of the great trees has fallen. My honor to have loved him as a Friend, Brother, Confidant, Wisdom Teacher.”

“If you wanted the sky I would write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand feet high.. To Sir… with Love,” Whoopi Goldberg tweeted, referencing the lyrics to the title song of Poitier’s 1967 film. “Sir Sidney Poitier R.I.P. He showed us how to reach for the stars.” 

“Through his groundbreaking roles and singular talent Sidney Poitier epitomized dignity and grace, revealing the power of movies to bring us closer together,” said President Barack Obama when citing Poitiers’ achievements. 

In 2009, President Barack Obama awarded Poitier the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying that the actor “not only entertained but enlightened… revealing the power of the silver screen to bring us closer together.”

In 2000, Poitier published his memoir, “The Measure of a Man”. It included a passage from the actor that said, “All those who see unworthiness when they look at me and are given thereby to denying me value — to you I say, ‘I’m not talking about being as good as you. I hereby declare myself better than you.”

During his distinguished career, Poitier received numerous honorary prizes, including a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute and a special Academy Award in 2002, on the same night that Black performers won both best acting awards, Denzel Washington for “Training Day” and Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball.”

With Potier seated in a box above the stage, Denzel accepted his Oscar and paid tribute to his hero and role model. Said Washington, “40 years I have been chasing Sidney, they finally give it to me and and what do they do, they give it to him the same night. I will always be chasing you, I will always be following in your footsteps.

Poitier left behind a world he transformed for the better.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *