Sidney Poitier, Academy Award-winning actor and Hollywood’s first Black movie star, dies at 94

Sidney Poitier, whose Academy Award for the 1963 film “Lilies of the Field” made him the first Black performer to win in the best-actor category, rose to prominence when the civil rights movement has died at 94.

His death was confirmed by Eugene Torchon-Newry, acting director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Bahamas, where Mr. Poitier grew up. No other details were immediately provided.

Poitier was the highest-paid actors in Hollywood and a top box-office draw, ranked fifth among male actors in Box Office magazine’s poll of theater owners and critics; he was behind only Richard Burton, Paul Newman, Lee Marvin and John Wayne back when Hollywood would not allow him as a romantic lead due to racism.

In 1967 Mr. Poitier appeared in three of Hollywood’s top-grossing films, making him thrive as of the top black actors among his peers. “In the Heat of Night” placing him opposite Rod Steiger, as an bigoted sheriff, with whom Virgil Tibbs, the Philadelphia detective played by Mr. Poitier, must work on a murder investigation in Mississippi.

Mr. Poitier grew up in the Bahamas but was born on Feb. 20, 1927, in Miami, where his parents traveled regularly to sell their tomato crops. He was the youngest of nine children, according to reports he never saw a car, looked in a mirror or tasted ice cream until his father, Reginald, moved the family from Cat Island to Nassau in 1937 after Florida banned the import of Bahamian tomatoes.

In 1951 he married Juanita Marie Hardy, a dancer and model, and divorced in 1965. They had four daughters. In 1976 he married Joanna Shimkus, his co-star in “The Lost Man” (1969), a film about a gang of Black militants plotting to rob a factory. They had two daughters.

In 2002, Mr. Poitier was given an honorary Oscar for his career’s work in motion picture. (At that same Oscar ceremony, Denzel Washington became the first Black actor since Mr. Poitier to win the best-actor award, for “Training Day.”) And in 2009, President Barack Obama, citing his “relentless devotion to breaking down barriers,” awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Image Credit: http://www.achievement.org/achiever/sidney-poitier/

“My wife and children mean the most to me,” he told PEOPLE at the time. His wife, Joanna Shimkus, whom he married in 1976, quipped, “We’ve been together 49 years and I’m a good cook. I cook every night.”

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