Sidney Poitier, the first Black actor to win an Academy Award has died. He was 94.
The trailblazing actor broke racial barriers in Hollywood throughout the 1950s and 1960s most famously with his 1964 Oscar win for Best Actor in his role in the film Lilies of the Field, making him the first Black actor to do so. The actor’s death was first reported by Bahamian news outlets (he has dual citizenship). ZNS reports that the actor died in Los Angeles around 7 p.m. Thursday and that close friend Cedric Scott confirmed his death to the outlet Friday morning.
BREAKING: Oscar-winning Bahamian-born actor, Sir Sidney Poitier passed away in Los Angeles, California sometime after 7pm. yesterday - actor and close friend to Poitier, Cedric Scott confirmed this morning. pic.twitter.com/9ydviQYoJ8— ZNS Bahamas (@ZNSBahamas242) January 7, 2022
Poitier starred in several classic films including To Sir With Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner where he played alongside Katharine Houghton. The latter film was the first time an interracial couple was depicted positively in film. In In the Heat of the Night he played Detective Virgil Tibbs where he delivered the famous line, “They call me Mr. Tibbs.”
Poitier portrayed diverse roles for Black actors and fought for inclusion on film sets. In Paris Blues, he played the first Black romantic lead in a major picture, and for 1969’s The Lost Man he fought for a diverse crew and demanded that at least half of the crew members be Black, per HuffPost.
In addition to making Hollywood more inclusive for Black actors, Poitier dedicated his life to advocating for equality during and after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1963, he attended the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.“He is a man of great depth, a man of great social concern, a man who is dedicated to human rights and freedom,” Dr. King said on Poitier’s activism per the outlet. Poitier was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 by President Obama for his work.
Poitier is survived by his wife of 45 years, Joanna, and five daughters.
GALLERY: THE LIFE OF SIDNEY POITIER