Sir Sidney Poitier famously starred in film Guess who’s Coming to Dinner, which explored racial tolerance
Sidney Poitier, the first black man to win a best actor Oscar, has died at 94.
The Hollywood star’s death was confirmed to the BBC by the office of Fred Mitchell, the Bahamas’ minister of foreign affairs.
Poitier was a trailblazing actor and a respected humanitarian and diplomat. He won the Academy Award for best actor for Lilies of the Field in 1963.
Born in Miami, he grew up on a tomato farm in the Bahamas and moved to New York aged 16.
He signed up for a short stint in the army and did several odd jobs while taking acting lessons, en route to becoming a star of the stage and screen.
Obituary: Sidney Poitier
His appearance in The Defiant Ones in 1958 earned him his first Oscar nomination – in itself an historic achievement for a black man in a lead category at the time.
Five years later he went one better, taking the glory for Lilies of the Field, in which he played a handyman who helps German nuns to build a chapel in the desert.
One of his most powerful roles was Virgil Tibbs in the film In the Heat of the Night
The actor was a regular on the big screen at a time of racial segregation in the US, appearing in a Patch of Blue in 1965, and then Heat of the Night the year after, followed by Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, playing a black man with a white fiancée.
In Heat of the Night he portrayed Virgil Tibbs, a black police officer confronting racism during a murder investigation.
His other classic films A Patch of Blue, The Blackboard Jungle and A Raisin in the Sun, which he also performed on Broadway.
Poitier went on to direct a raft of films, and a Broadway play about life and career was announced last month.
Empire magazine’s Amon Warman told the BBC: “He was a pioneer, he’s so influential and paved the way for so many in the industry to make their own mark, not least Denzel Washington, who paid tribute to him when he won an Oscar.”
‘Tackled racism head on’
Washington, who won an Oscar in 2002 on the same night Poitier won an honorary Oscar, joked as he said: “Forty years I’ve been chasing Sidney and what do they do – they go and give it to him in the same night.”
Warmonn added that Poitier “tackled racism head on” in his work but was also “so versatile”.
“He really helped change the game for how black actors were viewed at that time [of his Oscar win]. He was one of the biggest stars during that period.”
Star Trek actor George Takei paid tribute, calling the actor “a trailblazer who will be mourned by so many for whom he opened the very doors of Hollywood”.