Sidney Poitier, the trailblazing actor and activist who broke tremendous ground in Hollywood, has died at age 94. Poitier was known for his refined, principled onscreen performances, and he became the first Black man to win the Oscar for Best Actor in 1959 for whose elegant bearing and principled onscreen characters made him Hollywood's first Black movie star and the first Black man to win the Best Actor Oscar in 1963.
Poitier was born several months premature in Miami on February 20, 1927, to Bahamian parents. He spent his early childhood shuttling between the Bahamas and Miami, before settling in Miami for good at age 15. But Poitier moved to New York City where he discovered his passion for acting. He joined the American Negro Theatre where he would study under Harry Belafonte. He soon made the leap to Broadway and, eventually, Hollywood. As a film actor, Poitier refused to accept parts that he felt were degrading of Black people. But he became a star after such hit films as Cry, the Beloved Country, Blackboard Jungle and The Defiant Ones.
"It's been an enormous responsibility," Poitier told Oprah Winfrey in 2000. "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."
So many of Poitier's most iconic film roles tackled race in America. He starred as an attorney from Philadelphia who battles racism in small-town Mississippi in In the Heat of the Night and a doctor meeting the parents of his white fiancee in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
Poitier would earn the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as in Lilies Of The Field in 1963. In that film, he portrays a laborer who helps a group of white nuns build a chapel. He eventually became a $1 million-a-movie star, and in 1967, appeared in no less than three major box office hits: To Sir, With Love, as well as the aforementioned In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who's Coming To Dinner.
He would eventually take the director's chair; famously helming the comedy caper Uptown Saturday Night with Bill Cosby; as well as the sequels Let's Do It Again and A Piece of the Action. He also directed Stir Crazy with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder.
As news of his death spread, notables honored the Hollywood icon.
"What a landmark actor," tweeted award-winning actor Jeffrey Wright. "One of a kind. What a beautiful, gracious, warm, genuinely regal man. RIP, Sir. With love."