Sidney Poitier: Hollywood icon and trailblazer passes away

Los Angeles, California - Hollywood has lost another icon after legendary actor Sidney Poitier passed away at the age of 94.

Sidney Poitier has died at the age of 94.
Sidney Poitier has died at the age of 94.  © IMAGO / Ronald Grant

News of his death was broken by the Bahamas' minister of foreign affairs, Fred Mitchell, according to the Independent.

Poitier had dual Bahamian-American citizenship, having been born in Miami in 1927 to parents who often traveled to the US.

He rose to become one of the biggest stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, breaking barriers and leaving milestones in his wake.

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In an all-round historic career, Poitier became both the first Black man to be nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award – Defiant Ones (1958) – and the first to win it, after his performance in Lilies of the Field (1963).

His heft and acting range were universally admired. Equally comfortable in dramas and comedies, some of his roles challenged deeply-entrenched racial prejudices – none more so than 1967's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. In it, he and Katharine Houghton featured as a rare big-screen interracial couple, at a time when the US had barely struck down its last laws criminalizing interracial marriage.

Though the movie has its fair share of critics, it remains a significant event in modern cinema.

An inspiration to generations

Poitier being awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Poitier being awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2009.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Off-screen, Sidney Poitier was just as impactful.

He was a dedicated Civil Rights activist and participated in the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

He starred in more than 40 films over four decades before retiring from acting in 2001. Poitier became an idol for many in the industry, not least of all Denzel Washington, who became the second Black man to win the Oscar for Best Actor a full 38 years after Poitier. "I'll always be chasing you, Sidney. I'll always be following in your footsteps. There's nothing I would rather do, sir," Washington said at the 2002 Academy Awards.

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From 1997 to 2007, Poitier was also the Bahamian ambassador to Japan. Among the many honors he received was the Medal of Freedom, bestowed to him by then-President Barack Obama in 2009.

He leaves behind his wife, actor Joanna Shimkus, as well as six children, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren – not to mention an unforgettable legacy.

Cover photo: IMAGO / Ronald Grant

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