The word legend gets thrown around now, but if there’s someone who personifies legendary, it’s Sidney Poitier.
The trail-blazing actor, director, activist’s death at the age of 94 was announced Jan. 7 by Bahamian Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell. No further details on his passing were given.
When we talk about elders who literally built the world we live in, Poitier is near the top of that list. Born during a family trip to Miami, he lived in the Bahamas until he moved to Miami when he was 15, before heading to New York at 16 to begin his theater career.
Poitier’s first major film role came in 1955’s Blackboard Jungle. He followed that up with The Defiant Ones, a history-making performance that netted him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, a first for a Black performer.
As his career took off in films like A Raisin in the Sun and Lilies of the Field, for which he became the first Black actor to win the Oscar for Best Actor, Poitier used his success and influence to avoid being typecast, ensuring that he played characters with agency and dignity.
In 1967, Poitier became the biggest box office draw of the year with To Sir, with Love, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. For a Black man to be the leading commercial star of Hollywood was unheard of, but Poitier made a career out of breaking barriers.
In the ‘70s, he surprised everyone by moving into the director’s chair with the comedies Uptown Saturday Night, Let’s Do It Again and Stir Crazy, which was the highest grossing film by a Black director at the time.
With his last on-screen acting role coming in the 2001 TV movie The Last Brickmaker in America, Poitier spent recent years receiving flowers for his extraordinary life.
Upon accepting his Oscar for Training Day, Denzel Washington said, “I’ll always be chasing you Sidney. I’ll always be following in your footsteps. There’s nothing I would rather do.”
Among his numerous awards and accolades are multiple lifetime achievement awards, Honorary Oscar, Kennedy Center Honor, the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award, Knight of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.
They say to leave the world better than you found it. Well Sidney Poitier has changed the world for the better in ways that will be immeasurable for generations to come.