Sidney Poitier, the pioneering actor and director who became the first bankable black leading man in Hollywood, died Thursday at the age of 94, according to the Bahamian Foreign Minister.
Poitier, who was born in the US but grew up in the Bahamas, broke multiple racial barriers in his decades-long career, including when he became the first black actor to win the Academy Award, for his role in “Lilies of the Field “from 1963..”
From his first film performance, playing a doctor treating an intolerant white man in 1950’s “No Way Out,” he blazed a trail by refusing to play roles that traded on racial stereotypes. After his debut film, he played a minister in 1951’s “Cry, the Beloved Country,” set in apartheid-era South Africa, and then a distraught high school student in 1954’s “The Blackboard Jungle.”
Poitier earned his first Oscar nomination for 1959’s “The Defiant Ones,” starring opposite Tony Curtis as two fugitive criminals who must work together to elude authorities. Four years later, he made history by taking home the Best Actor trophy for “Lilies of the Field,” playing a former soldier helping a group of Catholic nuns build a new chapel.
More commercial roles followed, culminating in a trifecta of commercial and critical hits in 1967: the school drama “To Sir, With Love,” the police thriller “In the Heat of the Night,” and the romantic drama “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. “. – that made Poitier the best box office draw of the year.
She also worked regularly on stage, earning a Tony Award nomination for the original 1959 production of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic drama “A Raisin in the Sun”.
Poitier made his directorial debut with the 1972 western “Buck and the Preacher,” in which he co-starred with Harry Belafonte and Ruby Dee. He had his first directing success with the 1974 comedy “Uptown Saturday Night” with Belafonte and Bill Cosby, which he followed with two more Cosby vehicles, “Let’s Do It Again” (1975) and “A Piece of the Action.” (1977).
But his biggest box office hit came with 1980’s “Stir Crazy,” starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder as a pair of misfits who are sent to prison by mistake. The film grossed more than $ 100 million on its initial release, the first for a film by a black director.
He returned to acting in the late 1980s and 1990s with roles in thrillers such as “Little Nikita” (1988), “Sneakers” (1992) with Robert Redford and “The Jackal” (1997) with Bruce Willis and Richard Gere. . He also appeared in television movies, playing Thurgood Marshall in “Separated but Equal” (1991), reprising his role as Mark Thackeray in “To Sir, With Love II” (1996), and playing Nelson Mandela in “Mandela and de Klerk. “(1997). He earned Emmy nominations for “Separated But Equal” and “Mandela and de Klerk.”
His last on-screen credit came in the 2001 television movie “The Last Brickmaker in America,” playing a widower who mentors a troubled teenager.
The following year, he accepted an Honorary Academy Award for his work.
In addition to his work in Hollywood, he served as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2007 (he had dual citizenship with the US). In 2009, he also accepted the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.