Update: 7:15 p.m. PT (Jan. 7, 2022) – The Poitier family released a statement regarding the passing of Hollywood legend, Sidney Poitier. The statement reads as follows:
“There are no words to convey the deep sense of loss and sadness we are feeling right now. We are so grateful he was able to spend his last day surrounded by his family and friends. To us Sidney Poitier was not only a brilliant actor, activist, and a man of incredible grace and moral fortitude, he was also a devoted and loving husband, a supportive and adoring father, and a man who always put family first. He is our guiding light who lit up our lives with infinite love and wonder. His smile was healing, his hugs the warmest refuge, and his laughter was infectious. We could always turn to him for wisdom and solace and his absence feels like a giant hole in our family and our hearts. Although he is no longer here with us in this realm, his beautiful soul will continue to guide and inspire us. He will live on in us, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren—in every belly laugh, every curious inquiry, every act of compassion and kindness. His legacy will live on in the world, continuing to inspire not only with his incredible body of work, but even more so with his humanity.
We would like to extend our deepest appreciation to every single one of you for the outpouring of love from around the world. So many have been touched by our dad’s extraordinary life, his unwavering sense of decency and respect for his fellow man. His faith in humanity never faltered, so know that for all the love you’ve shown him, he loved you back.”
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Bahamian-American actor and activist, Sidney Poitier, has died at the age of 94. His cause of death has not yet been revealed.
The news was announced on Friday (Jan. 7) by Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell, immediately prompting tributes throughout the entertainment industry, as reported by The Independent. A press conference is set to be held by Bahamas Prime Minister, Philip Brave Davis, in tribute later today.
Poitier broke racial barriers in film and TV and paved the way for a plethora of Black actors with his rousing performances in classic films like Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967), In The Heat Of The Night (1967), To Sir with Love (1967), Uptown Saturday Night (1974), and Let’s Do It Again (1975). He also made history as the first Black man to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Homer Smith in 1963’s Lilies Of The Field.
Poitier was automatically granted citizenship in the U.S. after being unexpectedly born in Miami during his parents’ visit. Though growing up in the Bahamas, he moved to America at age 15 upon getting his first film role in the racially charged film, No Way Out (1950). In 1959, he garnered his first Academy Award nomination for his role as Noah Cullen in The Defiant Ones (1958). He was also the first Black person to be nominated in the Best Actor category. With that role, he additionally won a Golden Globe and a British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award.
In December 2021, it was announced that the beloved actor would have his life immortalized in the form of a Broadway play entitled Sidney. Adapted from his memoir, The Measure of A Man, the play “explores the nature of sacrifice and commitment, pride and humility and the price for artistic integrity,” producers told Variety. The show is backed by Poitier’s family with his daughter, Anika, as one of the producers. Ruben Santiago-Hudson shared, “Sir Sidney Poitier is clearly one of the greatest actors in the history of cinema. His integrity and standard of excellence set the bar for generations to come. It is an honor to be a part of celebrating the incomparable Sidney Poitier’s monumental career in this play but also the man and his extraordinary life.”
In his personal life, Poitier had a nine-year affair with the late Diahann Carroll in the ’50s and ’60s while they were both married. He is survived by his wife, Joanna Shimkus, and six children.
As the news of his tragic passing began to circulate, tributes poured in from notable figures in the entertainment industry. Colman Domingo tweeted, “Until I can properly eulogize him later. Heart broken. I am because of him. He blazed a tremendous path for thespians such as me. I am forever grateful. Standing O for this giant.”
Until I can properly eulogize him later. Heart broken. I am because of him. He blazed a tremendous path for thespians such as me. I am forever grateful. Standing O for this giant. pic.twitter.com/B6ZgNZF8MG
— Colman Domingo (@colmandomingo) January 7, 2022
Jeffrey Wright shared, “Sidney Poitier. What a landmark actor. One of a kind. What a beautiful, gracious, warm, genuinely regal man. RIP, Sir. With love.”
Sidney Poitier. What a landmark actor. One of a kind. What a beautiful, gracious, warm, genuinely regal man. RIP, Sir. With love.
(?Sam Falk/NYT) pic.twitter.com/5ZaKxxPdxw
— Jeffrey Wright (@jfreewright) January 7, 2022
Robert Townsend honored “the first King” with a heartfelt Instagram post. Townsend wrote, “He was my guiding compass as a kid on the west side of Chicago, watching him on a tiny black and white TV with a broken knob. I saw this powerful man of color, moving with such grace and dignity. He represented the man I aspired to be.”
The acclaimed director spoke on how Poitier was the only person he wanted to meet after the release of his groundbreaking film, Hollywood Shuffle. He later gained a closer relationship to his icon when Poitier learned of his divorce in 2001. Townsend reflected, “He became my godfather and mentor […] I spent the next thanksgivings with him and his family and he became like my therapist. Holding my hand and giving me advice. Priceless! I will miss the Cinematic giant but I will miss the generous and kind Man even more…”
VIBE sends our sincere condolences to the Poitier family. Watch his historic acceptance speech from the 36th Academy Awards below.