Sidney Poitier, one of the last stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age whose barrier-breaking career spanned more than seven decades, has died. He was 94.
Clint Watson, press secretary for the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, confirmed to CNN that Poitier died Thursday evening.
Born in Miami in 1927, Poitier was raised by his parents in the Bahamas.
He moved to New York in the 1950s to start his acting career.
In 1964, he became the first Black man to win an Oscar for best actor for his performance in “Lilies of the Field.” Some of his other major films of the decades were “A Raisin in the Sun,” “To Sir, With Love,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
Many of his best-known films explored racial tensions as Americans were grappling with social changes wrought by the civil rights movement.
Poitier’s movies struggled for distribution in the South, and his choice of roles was limited to what white-run studios would produce. Racial taboos, for example, precluded him from most romantic parts. But his dignified roles helped audiences of the 1950s and 1960s envision Black people not just as servants but as doctors, teachers and detectives.
At the same time, as the lone Black leading man in 1960s Hollywood, he came under tremendous scrutiny. He was too often hailed as a noble symbol of his race and endured criticism from some Black people who said he had betrayed them by taking sanitized roles and pandering to whites.
“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.”
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Poitier was also known as an activist and an ambassador. He served as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2007.
Besides his historic Oscar win, Poitier was the recipient of other major honors: A BAFTA, two Golden Globes — including the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award — a Grammy, the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, a Kennedy Center Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Funeral arrangements for Poitier have not been announced.