Sidney Poitier, Hollywood’s first major Black movie star who won mainstream popularity with a series of groundbreaking roles in the 1950s and 1960s, has died aged 94.
Poitier, who held dual US and Bahamian nationality, was “an icon, a hero, a mentor, a fighter, a national treasure,” Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper said on his official Facebook page.
The celebrated thespian became the first Black star nominated for an Academy Award with 1958’s “The Defiant Ones” and, six years later, was the first to win the best actor Oscar for his performance in “Lilies of the Field.”
Star Trek actor George Takei paid tribute to “a trailblazer who will be mourned by so many for whom he opened the very doors of Hollywood.”
At a time of racial tension in America in the 1950s and 1960s, Poitier balanced success with a sense of duty to choose projects that tackled bigotry and stereotypes, including his 1967 classics “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “In the Heat of the Night.”
“I was conflicted with great sadness and a sense of celebration when I learned of the passing of Sir Sidney Poitier,” Cooper said Friday.
“Sadness that he would no longer be here to tell him how much he means to us, but celebration that he did so much to show the world that those from the humblest beginnings can change the world.
“He will be missed sorely, but he is a legacy that will never be forgotten.”
Poitier was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2002 for his “extraordinary performances” on the silver screen and his “dignity, style, and intelligence” off of it.
On television, he portrayed icons of history such as South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela and the first Black justice on the US Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall.
And in 1997, he took up a ceremonial post as Bahamian ambassador to Japan.
He was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom — the country’s highest civilian honor — by Barack Obama in 2009.
Poitier was married to his second wife Joanna since 1976 and had six children as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.