Trailblazing actor Sidney Poitier has died at age 94
(NBC NEWS)- Legendary actor, film director, activist, and ambassador Sir Sidney Poitier has died. He was 94. In 1964, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, becoming the first Black male and Bahamian actor to win the award.
In a career that spanned more than a half-century, Sidney Poitier became one of Hollywood’s most important and beloved actors.
Born in Miami, but raised in the Bahamas, Poitier moved back to the U.S. as a teenager.
His big-screen debut came in “No Way Out” in 1950. It launched a series of roles noted for their cultural impact, during a time when America started confronting racial divisions.
Starring opposite Tony Curtis in the defiant ones, Poitier was nominated for his first Academy Award in 1958.
Six years later he made history, becoming the first Black Academy Award winner for best actor in “Lillies of the Field.”
More iconic roles followed, playing Virgil Tibbs “In the Heat of the Night”, who was a sophisticated big city detective investigating a murder in the rural South.
About the role, Poitier said, “Though we had Black detectives in pretty much every city in the country, we had not had that kind of representation on the screen, and I was very proud to be there doing it.”
Other landmark roles in the 1960s shined a light on racial inequality, including “A Raisin in the Sun” and the groundbreaking “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, starring opposite Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.
Poitier showed his versatility in Hollywood as well, acting in comedies and directing nearly a dozen movies, including “Stir Crazy” with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder.
He also served as a Bahamian ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2007.
In 2009, President Obama awarded Poitier the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.