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Sidney Poitier, First Black Actor To Win Best Actor Academy Award, Dies At 94

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Sidney Poitier, First Black Actor To Win Best Actor Academy Award, Dies At 94
Sidney Poitier holding his Academy Award for Best [-]
Actor in a Leading Role for ‘Lilies Of The Field’, directed by Ralph Nelson, at the 36th Academy Awards ceremony, 13th April 1964. The ceremony was held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
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Academy Award-winning actor and director Sidney Poitier, who reached a career zenith as the first African American individual to win the coveted statuette for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the Oscars, has died.

Poitier, who once turned down the role of Othello because he did not want to be typecast as a black actor, won the Oscars award for ‘Lilies of the Field’ in 1963.

Turning down the role of Othello underlined the dilemma faced by a man who broke down many of Hollywood’s racial barriers.

As the first black winner of the Academy Awards’ Best Actor statuette, he was always aware of being the standard-bearer for greater racial integration.

However, often he felt he had become something of a racial token, and this denied him the opportunity of taking on more varied roles.

Poitier’s passing was announced by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Bahamas, Fred Mitchell, who said he was “conflicted with great sadness and a sense of celebration when he learned of his passing.” His cause of death has yet to be confirmed.

Sidney Poitier was born on 20 February 1927 in Miami, Florida. His parents were Bahamian farmers who had travelled to the US to sell tomatoes. His premature birth meant he gained US citizenship as well as Bahamian.

Born February 20, 1927 in the Bahamas, Poitier paved the way for other black actors by resisting the typical stereotypical roles offered to the African American community at the time; instead choosing dignified and intelligent characters in films like A Raisin in the Sun (1961), A Patch of Blue (1965), To Sir, With Love (1967), In the Heat of the Night (1967), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970), and the aforementioned Lilies of the Field. His first Academy Award nomination was for The Defiant Ones in 1959.

After a spell in the US Army he joined the American Negro Theatre, which had been set up as a community project in Harlem in 1940.

Unfortunately Poitier was tone-deaf and was unable to sing, something audiences felt was a prerequisite of black actors at that time.

Instead, he decided his future lay as a serious stage actor and he was offered a leading role in a production of Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata in 1946.

It was a sign of the times that the production featured only black actors.

Years later, Poitier became the first black actor to receive a life achievement award from the American Film Institute in 1992.

Five years later, he was appointed the Bahamas’ ambassador to Japan and he received a knighthood in 1974.

As a Bahamian citizen this was a substantive rather than an honorary award, although he did not use it in the US.

Poitier married Juanita Hardy in 1950, but the union ended in 1965. In 1976 he married the Canadian actress, Joanna Shimkus, and had six daughters from his two marriages. His daughter, Sydney Tamiia Poitier is also an actress.

In 2016, he was awarded a Fellowship by Bafta, a recognition of his outstanding contribution to cinema.

Poitier’s noted ability to play intelligent leading roles helped to break down racial taboos in American cinema and wider society, although he played down his importance as a role model.

Sidney and Barack Obama.

In 2009, the actor received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

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