Sidney Poitier, Trailblazing Actor and Activist, Dies at 94 – IGN

Sidney Poitier, actor, filmmaker, and civil rights activist, has died aged 94.

The Bahamian Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell announced today that Sidney Poitier has died, though details of his death were not immediately available.

Poitier is perhaps best known as the first Black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the 1964 classic, Lilies of the Field. During his prolific career, he obtained the status of a legend, starring in iconic films like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, and To Sir With Love among many others.

Sidney Poitier starred in No Way Out. Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Sidney Poitier starred in No Way Out. Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Poitier made his film debut in the 1950 film noir, No Way Out. After his breakthrough role in Blackboard Jungle in 1955. Poitier’s first brush with the Academy Awards came in 1958 when he was nominated for Best Actor alongside his co-star Tony Curtis for the film The Defiant Ones.

He went on to nab the Oscar in 1964 and also won a BAFTA for The Defiant Ones as well as two Golden Globes and a Grammy Award throughout his career.

Poitier eventually turned his hand to filmmaking and continued to impress Hollywood with the likes of Stir Crazy – the iconic comedy film starring Gene Wilder and Richard Prior.

Throughout his career, Poitier was known for his unwavering calls for civil rights and racial equality. He was known for rejecting roles based on offensive racial stereotypes and chose instead to portray only dignified, intelligent Black men on film.

He is said to have felt a responsibility to represent Black excellence during a time when the vast majority of major movie stars were white. “I felt very much as if I were representing 15, 18 million people with every move I made,” he once wrote.

His best-known film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, was filmed when interracial marriage was still illegal in many states and was ground-breaking in its favorable representation of interracial love. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner has been remade or referenced several times since by other films and TV shows.

Katharine Houghton and Sidney Poitier in Guess WHo's Coming to Dinner? Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Katharine Houghton and Sidney Poitier in Guess WHo’s Coming to Dinner? Credit: Columbia Pictures.

After his historic win in 1964, Poitier remained the only Black actor to win the Best Actor Oscar until Denzel Washington in 2002. This was the same year Poitier himself received the honorary Oscar “in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human.”

Aside from his legendary acting credentials, Poitier also received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 1974, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. He also served as the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan between 1997 and 2007.

Poitier was one of the last major stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, after the death of Kirk Douglas in 2020.

Poitier is survived by his wife, Joanna Shimkus, and six daughters.

Ryan Leston is an entertainment journalist and film critic for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter.

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