Sydney Poitier, a Bahamian ministry official who inspired a generation in the civil rights movement to overcome racial barriers by becoming the first blockbuster Oscar winner for his role in Lilies of the Field, has died at the age of 94. Foreign Affairs said Friday.
Eugene Torchon-Nuri, Acting Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed the death of Poitier.
The Sydney Poitier created a distinctive film legacy in the same year with three 1967 films at a time of much separatism in the United States.
In Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, he plays a black man with his white fiance, and in the Heat of the Night is Virgil Tibbs, a black police officer who faces racism in the murder trial. He also starred as a teacher in the rigorous London school that year, To Sir, With Love.
Poitier won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Motion Picture for Lilies of the Field in 1963, for his work in helping German nuns build a chapel in the desert. Five years before that, Poetry was the first black man to be nominated for an Oscar for his role in The Different Ones.
His Tibbs character in In the Heat of the Night is immortalized in two sequels – They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! In 1970 and 1971 the organization – and based the television series In the Heat of the Night – starring Carol O’Connor and Howard Rollins.
His other classic films of the era included A Patch of Blue in 1965, in which his character befriended a blind white girl, The Blackboard Jungle and A Raisin in the Sun, and also appeared on Poetry Broadway.
Sidney Poitier was born in Miami on February 20, 1927 and grew up on a tomato farm in the Bahamas and had only one year of formal schooling. He fought against poverty, illiteracy and prejudice, and was one of the first black actors to be recognized and accepted in the lead roles by a mainstream audience.
Poitier chose his characters carefully, burying the old Hollywood idea that black actors would only appear in degrading situations such as the Shushin boys, train conductors and maids.
“I love you, I respect you, I imitate you,” Denzel Washington, another Oscar winner, once told a poet at a public ceremony.
As a director, Poitier worked with his friend Harry Belafonte and Bill Cosby on Uptown Saturday Night in 1974 and Richard Pryor and Jean Wilder on Stir Crazy in 1980.
Started on stage
Sydney Poitier grew up in a small Bahamian village on Cat Island and in Nassau, where he lied about his age to sign up for a while in the Army before moving to New York at the age of 16, working in odd jobs including a dishwasher. Acting lessons.
The young actor got his first break when he met the casting director of the American Negro Theater. He was an underdog in Days of Our Youth and took over when star Belafonte, a leading black actor, became ill.
Poitier won on Broadway in Anna Lucasta in 1948, and two years later landed her first film role in No Way Out with Richard Widmark.
In all, he starred in more than 50 films, beginning with Buck and the Preacher in 1972, and directed nine of which he co-starred with Belafonte.
In 1992, Poitier was awarded the Life Achievement Award by the American Film Institute, the most prestigious honor after the Oscars, along with recipients such as Bette Davis, Alfred Hitchcock, Fred Astire, James Cogni and Orson Welles.
“I also have to thank an elderly Jewish waiter who took the time to learn to read a young black dishwasher,” Poitier told the audience. “I can not say his name. I never knew it. But now I read better.”
In 2002, the prestigious Oscar recognized “his outstanding achievements as an artist and as a human being.”
Sydney Poitier married actress Joanna Shimkas and his second wife in the mid-1970s. He is survived by his two wives and six daughters and has authored three books – This Life (1980), The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography (2000) and Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter (2008).
“If you apply reason and logic to my profession, you will not go very far,” he told the Washington Post. “The journey has been fantastic from the start. Most life, it seems to me, is determined by pure coincidence.
Poitier wrote three autobiographical books and in 2013 published a novel, Montero Cain, described as part mystery and part science fiction.
The actor was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in 1974 and served as Bahamian Ambassador to Japan and at UNESCO, the UN cultural body. He also served on the board of directors of Walt Disney Co. from 1994 to 2003.
In 2009, Poetry was awarded the highest US civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Barack Obama.
He was there to present the 2014 Academy Awards Ceremony, the 50th anniversary of Sydney Poitier’s historic Oscars and the award for Best Director.