Hollywood’s first Black movie star and first Black man to win the best actor Oscar, Sidney Poitier, has died at age 94.
This was confirmed by Clint Watson, Press Secretary for the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, who said the legend died on Thursday evening, CNN reports.
The youngest of seven children, Poitier was born several months premature in Miami on February 20, 1927.
Poitier won the Oscar for 1963’s “Lilies of the Field,” in which he played an itinerant labourer who helps a group of White nuns build a chapel.
According to the report, Poitier overcame an impoverished background in the Bahamas and softened his thick island accent to rise to the top of his profession at a time when prominent roles for Black actors were rare.
He retired from acting in 2000, choosing instead to play golf and pen a memoir, “The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography,” in which he described his lifelong attempt to live according to principles instilled in him by his father and others he admired.
In his later years, as Hollywood sought to recognise a man whose example had opened doors for so many other Black actors, the accolades poured in.
In 2001, Poitier received an honorary Academy Award for his overall contribution to American cinema.
The following year, in accepting his best actor Oscar for “Training Day,” Denzel Washington said, “Forty years I’ve been chasing Sidney. … I’ll always be chasing you, Sidney. I’ll always be following in your footsteps.”
In 2009, President Obama awarded Poitier the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour, saying, “It’s been said that Sidney Poitier does not make movies, he makes milestones … milestones of artistic excellence, milestones of America’s progress.”
The Film Society of Lincoln Center bestowed its highest award on Poitier in 2011.
Among the speakers praising him was filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, who said, “In the history of movies, there’ve only been a few actors who, once they gained recognition, their influence forever changed the art form.
“There’s a time before their arrival, and there’s a time after their arrival. And after their arrival, nothing’s ever going to be the same again. As far as the movies are concerned, there was pre-Poitier, and there was Hollywood post-Poitier.”
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