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RIP Sidney Poitier: Paying Tribute to the Trailblazing Actor Who Paved the Way for Black Performers in Hollywood

RIP Sidney Poitier: Paying Tribute to the Trailblazing Actor Who Paved the Way for Black Performers in Hollywood

Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

Trailblazing actor Sidney Poitier passed away on January 6, 2022, at the age of 94. The news of his death was announced in a live statement by the Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis, with the Prime Minister’s press secretary later confirming that the beloved Bahamian American actor died of “natural causes” at his home in Los Angeles. “We admire the man not just because of his colossal achievements but also because of who he was: his strength of character, his willingness to stand up and be counted, and the way he plotted and navigated his life’s journey,” Davis said during the press conference.

Poitier’s family also released a touching statement following his death, revealing that he “was not only a brilliant actor, activist, and a man of incredible grace and moral fortitude, he was also a devoted and loving husband, a supportive and adoring father, and a man who always put family first.” Known for his groundbreaking roles in classic films such as Lillies of the Field, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Poitier’s immense and immeasurable influence, both on and off camera, has undoubtedly left an incredible legacy in his wake as the world mourns the loss of such a cultural icon.

Born in Miami in 1927, Poitier was raised on Cat Island in the Bahamas by parents who were tomato farmers. After moving to the U.S. at the age of 15, the pioneering actor climbed his way to the top of the American film industry from relative obscurity. He performed his earliest roles on the stage of Harlem’s American Negro Theatre in New York, where he was initially rejected for stumbling over his lines in his thick Caribbean accent. But that early failure only lit a fire under him. And after months of working on his accent and doing odd jobs in exchange for acting lessons, he finally landed a role at the theater in a play called Days of Our Youth. After that, he quickly transitioned from the stage to film, later securing his breakout role in the 1955 motion picture Blackboard Jungle And from there, he forged an illustrious entertainment career spanning more than five decades, during which he acted in more than 50 different films and even spent some time behind the camera as a director.

Photo: Friedman-Abeles, New York via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

Poitier also made history in 1964 when he became the first Black actor to win the Academy Award for best leading performance. The achievement is one among many honors and awards the renowned performer received during his lifetime, but it is also undoubtedly one of his most significant accomplishments. His early career was fraught with pitfalls woven into the very fabric of a racially unjust society at the height of the American Civil Rights movement, but Poitier persevered and overcame every obstacle with dignity and grace. He notoriously turned down the stereotypical and often very derogatory parts that were usually reserved for Black actors. Refusing to be limited and defined solely based on his race, he instead sought to play nuanced roles.

“So much was riding on me as one of the first [Black actors] out there,” Poitier told Oprah in an October 2000 interview. “It’s been an enormous responsibility. And I accepted it, and I lived in a way that showed how I respected that responsibility. I had to. In order for others to come behind me, there were certain things I had to do…I was the most successful Black actor in the history of the country. I was not in control of the kinds of films I would be offered, but I was totally in control of the kinds of films I would do. So I came to the mix with that power—the power to say, ‘No, I will not do that.’ I did that from the beginning.”

Those decisions carried him throughout the rest of his career, eventually earning him another Honorary Academy Award for his lifetime achievement in film in 2001. And in 2009, Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, who later hailed the film legend as a “singular talent” who “opened doors for a generation of actors.” One of those is Denzel Washington, who shared a very close friendship with Poiter and openly admitted his indebtedness to the legendary actor. “I’ll always be chasing you, Sidney,” Washington said in his 2002 Academy Award acceptance speech when he joined Poiter as the only other Black actor at the time to have received the award for Best Actor. “I’ll always be following in your footsteps. There’s nothing I would rather do, sir.”

Washington and many other notable people who’ve had the pleasure to know, work with, and be inspired by Poitier on and off the screen have paid tribute to the incredible man since his passing. “He blazed a trail through rough and hostile terrain so those coming behind him could have a bit more ease on the journey,” said the actor’s daughter and namesake Sydney Tamila Poitier in a heartfelt Instagram post. “It’s his goodness that changed the world, and it will live on forever.”

Scroll down to see more heartfelt tributes to the revolutionary film star and cultural icon Sidney Poitier.

Trailblazing actor Sidney Poitier died on January 6, 2022, at the age of 94.

Photo: s_bukley/Depositphotos

Friends, family, and other notable people from around the world are paying tribute to the trailblazing actor as the world mourns the loss of such a cultural icon.

Through his groundbreaking roles and singular talent, Sidney Poitier epitomized dignity and grace, revealing the power of movies to bring us closer together. He also opened doors for a generation of actors. Michelle and I send our love to his family and legion of fans. pic.twitter.com/zkYKFSxfKA

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 7, 2022

Sidney was my inspiration, my guiding light, my friend. Sending love to Joanna and his family. pic.twitter.com/0UzVIyeJZV

— Morgan Freeman (@morgan_freeman) January 7, 2022

The legendary Sidney Poitier has reportedly passed away at 94. A true icon.

Here is a powerful interview from him back in 1968 – he was addressing how he was being treated by the press.

Rest in power. pic.twitter.com/WtjmN2sU27

— Clay ‘Critical Thinking Theory’ Cane (@claycane) January 7, 2022

What he must have tolerated to pave the way for the next one. When we say “on the shoulders of giants” he is one of the biggest. As much as representation matters, the road he paved, leading kids like me to see ourselves onscreen is incalculable. Rest in peace Sir Sidney Poitier pic.twitter.com/hRnUNa9U09

— Reese Waters (@reesewaters) January 7, 2022

 

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A post shared by VIOLA DAVIS (@violadavis)

If you wanted the sky i would write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand feet high..
To Sir… with Love
Sir Sidney Poitier R.I.P.
He showed us how to reach for the stars

— Whoopi Goldberg (@WhoopiGoldberg) January 7, 2022

“I’m on the porch of our little home on Cat Island in the Bahamas. Evening turns the sky a bright burnt orange. My mother and father fan the smoke from green palm leaves. My sister Teddy takes me in her arms to rock me to sleep.”

Rest in triumph, Mr. Poitier. Thank you forever. pic.twitter.com/j29bDNEqVl

— Ava DuVernay (@ava) January 7, 2022

Mr. P was everything to me! My North Star and guiding light. The very personification of elegance, eloquence, effortless grace and humanity, I have admired and emulated him my entire life. Without Sidney Poitier, quite simply, there would be no LeVar Burton.#RIP#OG#MrP

— LeVar Burton (@levarburton) January 7, 2022

Sidney Poitier 🕊 pic.twitter.com/otVjSFHaw8

— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) January 7, 2022

(1/3) “A tiny bit of myself is lost when my friends are gone,” Sidney Poitier wrote in his book LIFE BEYOND MEASURE. My dear Sidney, an enormous part of my soul weeps at your passing. In your ninety-four years on this planet, you left an indelible mark with your extraordinary… pic.twitter.com/VzVR6FOLWM

— Halle Berry (@halleberry) January 7, 2022

#SidneyPoitier, your last sunset with us is the dawn of many generations rising in the path of light you blazed. We will always hold you in our hearts and forever speak your name. 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/hIKYCqM245

— Debbie Allen (@msdebbieallen) January 7, 2022

Sidney Poitier. What a landmark actor. One of a kind. What a beautiful, gracious, warm, genuinely regal man. RIP, Sir. With love.

(📷Sam Falk/NYT) pic.twitter.com/5ZaKxxPdxw

— Jeffrey Wright (@jfreewright) January 7, 2022

He once caught me following him. He said “little girl what do you want” I muttered “can I have your autograph”. From that day he always called me little girl and asked if I wanted his autograph. It was something we laughed about. He was my hero & great friend. May he RIP ❤️. https://t.co/yQhuiDCZse

— Dionne Warwick (@dionnewarwick) January 7, 2022

You have been & will continue to be the greatest inspiration of my career. Your distinguished presence, dignity, strength & courage have inspired all that I aspire to be as a man, a human being, creative artist. Thank you & may you rest in infinite power, Sir Sidney Poitier. 🙏🏽🖤 pic.twitter.com/sI31G3fPlF

— Giancarlo Esposito (@quiethandfilms) January 7, 2022

Thank God for the life of Mr. Sidney Poitier!
In a time of great racial strife in our country, he gently changed the world with his kindness, dignity, and integrity. Thank you Mr. Poitier for a life well-lived.
Rest, Good and faithful servant. Rest!
🙏🏾🙏🏽🙏🏼
CBV pic.twitter.com/OW4BoXtxxC

— Courtney B. Vance (@CourtneyBVance) January 7, 2022

We lost an elegant King today. Thank you Sidney Poitier. For not only opening the door, but for walking in this world with endless grace and excellence, so that today, still, we follow behind you, reaching toward the example that you set. Rest In Peace and in Power. We love you. pic.twitter.com/CP2ga9KiHu

— kerry washington (@kerrywashington) January 7, 2022

Sir #SidneyPoitier, your brilliant light will never dim. The doors you opened and paths you created will continue to make way for those with a dream. You showed the world that with vision and grace, all is possible.

📸: Mathieu Bitton pic.twitter.com/Y0agy7P7Gg

— Lenny Kravitz (@LennyKravitz) January 7, 2022

Until I can properly eulogize him later. Heart broken. I am because of him. He blazed a tremendous path for thespians such as me. I am forever grateful. Standing O for this giant. pic.twitter.com/B6ZgNZF8MG

— Colman Domingo (@colmandomingo) January 7, 2022

h/t: [PBS NewsHour]

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READ: RIP Sidney Poitier: Paying Tribute to the Trailblazing Actor Who Paved the Way for Black Performers in Hollywood