Sidney Poitier

Bahamian and American actor and diplomat (1927–2022)

Sidney Poitier KBE (February 20, 1927 – January 6, 2022) was a Bahamian and American actor, movie director, and diplomat. He became a star in American movies and plays which went against racial stereotypes, and made black actors more respected in mainstream roles.

Sidney Poitier

Poitier in 1968
Born(1927-02-20)February 20, 1927
DiedJanuary 6, 2022(2022-01-06) (aged 94)
  • American
  • Bahamian
  • Actor
  • movie director
  • diplomat
Years active1946–2009
WorksFull list
PartnerDiahann Carroll (1959–1968)
Children6, including Sydney Tamiia
AwardsFull list
Ambassador of the Bahamas
1997–2007Ambassador to Japan
2002–2007Ambassador to UNESCO
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1943–1944
Battles/warsWorld War II

From 1997 through 2007, he was the Bahamian ambassador to Japan.[1]

Early life change

Poitier was born in Miami, Florida. He grew up with his family on remote Cat Island, in the Bahamas. His mother was called Evelyn and his father was called Reginald James Poitier.[2] They had a farm.[3] Poitier's birth was premature and people did not expect him to survive, but his parents stayed three months in Miami until he became well.[4] Since he was born in Miami, Poitier automatically gained U.S. citizenship.[4]

When he was 15, Poitier's parents sent him off Miami to live with his older brother. At 17, he moved to New York City and got several menial jobs. During this time, he was arrested for vagrancy (being homeless) after having to leave his home for not paying rent. He decided to join the United States Army. He worked as a dishwasher until he got a job with the American Negro Theater.

Acting career change

Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Charlton Heston at the March on Washington, 1963

Poitier was tone deaf, and could not sing or dance. This is what black actors did at the time, so audiences did not like him.[5] He worked very hard to improve his acting skills, and to get rid of his Bahamian accent. He eventually got a leading role in the Broadway play called Lysistrata and he got excellent reviews. At the end of 1949, he got a job working for Darryl F. Zanuck in the movie No Way Out (1950). He played a doctor treating a white bigot. After this job, he soon got more movie roles. The acting jobs he got were better and more interesting than the roles most black actors played at the time.

In 1955, he played a member of an badly behaved high school class in Blackboard Jungle. This was an important role in Poitier's career.

Poitier was the first black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor (for Lilies of the Field in 1963).[6]

He acted in the first production of A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway in 1959, and later starred in the movie version released in 1961. He was also in The Bedford Incident (1965), and A Patch of Blue (1965) co-starring Elizabeth Hartman and Shelley Winters. In 1967, he was the most successful actor at the box office, with three successful movies, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner; To Sir, with Love and In the Heat of the Night. The last movie featured his most successful character, Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania detective.

However, Poitier began to be criticized for typecasting himself, playing black characters who had only good personalities, like his character in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. Poitier agreed with this but although he wanted more different roles, but also wanted to set a good example with his characters and go against the negative stereotypes that had come before. He was the only major black actor in the American movie industry at the time.

Directing career change

Poitier directed several movies, the most successful being the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder comedy Stir Crazy. The first movie he directed was the western Buck and the Preacher. He was also the star, with Harry Belafonte. Other movies he directed are Uptown Saturday Night, Let's Do It Again, A Piece of the Action, and Ghost Dad.

Personal life change

Poitier, Mary Robinson, and Desmond Tutu about to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2009

Poitier was first married to Juanita Hardy from April 29, 1950 until 1965. He married Joanna Shimkus, a Canadian-born actress on January 23, 1976. He had four daughters by his first marriage and two by his second.

Poitier wrote three autobiographical books, This Life (1980), The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography (2000) and Life Beyond Measure - letters to my Great-Granddaughter (2008).

Later life change

In April 1997, Poitier became ambassador from the Bahamas to Japan.[7] He was also the ambassador from the Bahamas to UNESCO. From 1998 to 2003, he was a Member of the Board of Directors of The Walt Disney Company.[8]

In 2001, Poitier received an Academy Honorary Award for his overall contribution to American cinema. In August 2009, he received the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.

Poitier died at his home in Los Angeles, California on January 6, 2022, at the age of 94.[9][10][11] The cause of death was heart failure caused by Alzheimer's disease and prostate cancer.[12]

References change

  1. "Legendary Actor Sidney Poitier Dead at 94". NBC. January 7, 2022. Archived from the original on April 7, 2022. Retrieved January 7, 2022.
  2. Sidney Poitier Biography (1927-)
  3. "Tavis Smiley interviews Sidney Poitier". PBS. Archived from the original on 2009-03-16. Retrieved 2017-08-31.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Adam Goudsouzian, Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (2004), p.8.
  5. Goudsouzian; Sidney Poitier; pp. 69, 133
  6. On This Day: 1964: Poitier breaks new ground with Oscar win at BBC
  7. Char Adams (2022-01-07). "Sidney Poitier will be remembered for his acting — and his advocacy". Retrieved 2023-11-22.
  8. Actor Takes Center Stage as Disney Trial Grinds On
  9. Watson, Fay (January 7, 2022). "Sir Sidney Poitier dead: Oscar-winning actor, director and activist dies aged 94". Retrieved January 7, 2022.
  10. Italie, Hillel (January 7, 2022). "Oscar winner and groundbreaking star Sidney Poitier dies". Associated Press. Retrieved January 7, 2022.
  11. "Sidney Poitier, who helped break down Hollywood's on-screen color barriers and made history as the first African American to win an Academy Award for best actor, has died". Los Angeles Times. 7 January 2022. Retrieved 2022-01-07.
  12. "Sidney Poitier Death Certificate Revealed". TMZ. 18 January 2022. Retrieved 18 January 2022.

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