Sidney Poitier, the pioneering actor and director who became the first bankable Black leading man in Hollywood, has died at age 94, according to the Bahamian Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Poitier, who was born in the U.S. 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 1963’s “Lilies of the Field.”
From his first film performance, playing a doctor who treats a bigoted white man in 1950’s “No Way Out,” he blazed a trail by refusing to play roles that traded on racial stereotypes. He followed his debut film by playing a minister in 1951’s “Cry, the Beloved Country,” set in apartheid-era South Africa, and then an angsty high schooler in 1954’s “The Blackboard Jungle.”
Poitier picked up his first Oscar nomination for 1959’s “The Defiant Ones,” starring with Tony Curtis as two escaped criminals who must work together to elude the authorities. Four years later, he made history by taking home the Best Actor trophy for “Lilies of the Field,” starring as a former GI who helps a group of Catholic nuns build a new chapel.
More commercial roles followed, culminating with a trifecta of commercial and critical hits in 1967 — the classroom drama “To Sir, With Love,” the crime thriller “In the Heat of the Night” and the romantic drama “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” — that made Poitier the top box office draw of the year.
He also worked regularly in theater, earning a Tony Award nomination for the original 1959 production of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic drama “A Raisin in the Sun.”