Lupita Nyong'o mourns Sidney Poitier: He was "my hero"

Poitier, the Bahamian-America actor died yesterday at 94.

for Tv47 Digital January 08, 2022, 05:45 AM
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Oscar-award winning actress Lupita Nyong'o has mourned actor Sidney Poitier as her "hero."

Writing on social media, Lupita also saluted Poitier for "a life so well lived."

Poitier died yesterday at 94. He was the first black winner of the Best Actor Oscar for his role in Lilies of the Field. Poitier also inspired a generation during the civil rights movement.

"Even as we mourn, we celebrate the life of a cultural icon, an actor and film director, an entrepreneur, civil and human rights activist and, lately, a diplomat," said Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis. Poitier was of Bahamian origin.

He created a distinguished film legacy in a single year with three 1967 films at a time when segregation prevailed in much of the United States.

Black Man on Set

In Guess Who's Coming to Dinner he played a black man with a white fiancee and In the Heat of the Night he was Virgil Tibbs, a Black police officer confronting racism during a murder investigation. He also played a teacher in a tough London school that year in To Sir, With Love.

Poitier won his history-making Best Actor Oscar in 1963, playing a handyman who helps German nuns build a chapel in the desert. Five years before that Poitier had been the first Black man nominated for a lead actor Oscar for his role in The Defiant Ones.

His other classic films of that era included A Patch of Blue in 1965 in which his character was befriended by a blind white girl, The Blackboard Jungle and A Raisin in the Sun.

Cradle of Eminence

Poitier was born in Miami on Feb. 20, 1927, and raised on a tomato farm in the Bahamas. He had just one year of formal schooling. He struggled against poverty, illiteracy and prejudice to become one of the first Black actors to be known and accepted in major roles by mainstream audiences.

Poitier grew up in the small Bahamian village of Cat Island and in Nassau before he moved to New York at 16, lying about his age to sign up for a short stint in the Army and then working at odd jobs, including dishwasher, while taking acting lessons.

Poitier was knighted by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in 1974 and served as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan and to UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency. He also sat on Walt Disney Co's board of directors from 1994 to 2003.

In all, he acted in more than 50 films and directed nine. In 2002, an honorary Oscar recognized "his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being."

Poitier's Private Life

Poitier married actress Joanna Shimkus, his second wife, in the mid-1970s. He had six daughters with his two wives and wrote three books - This Life (1980), The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography (2000) and Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter (2008).

"If you apply reason and logic to this career of mine, you're not going to get very far," he told the Washington Post. "The journey has been incredible from its beginning. So much of life, it seems to me, is determined by pure randomness."

He wrote three autobiographical books and in 2013 published Montaro Caine, a novel that was described as part mystery, part science fiction.

In 2009, he was awarded the highest U.S. civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Barack Obama.

The 2014 Academy Awards ceremony marked the 50th anniversary of Poitier's historic Oscar and he was there to present the award for best director.

-Additional reporting by Reuters

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