Sidney Poitier, the first black man to receive a Best Actor award, died at the age of 94.
The death of the Hollywood icon was confirmed by the office of Fred Mitchell, the Bahamas’ minister of international affairs. Poitier was a pioneering performer as well as a well-known humanitarian and diplomat. In 1963, he received the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Lilies of the Field.
Poitier was born in Miami and grew up on a tomato farm in the Bahamas before moving to New York at the age of 16.
He enlisted in the army for a brief time and worked a variety of odd jobs while taking acting classes on his way to becoming a theatrical and screen star in the 1950s and 1960s.
In Hollywood, Poitier broke through racial barriers. His performance in The Defiant Ones in 1958 garnered him his first Academy Award nomination, which was a first for a black man in a leading role at the time.
He went one better five years later, winning an Oscar for Lilies of the Field, in which he portrayed a handyman who assists German nuns in constructing a chapel in the desert.
The actor was a fixture on the big screen during a period of racial segregation in the United States, appearing in films such as Patch of Blue in 1965, Heat of the Night the next year, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner the following year, in which he played a black guy with a white fiancée.
The Blackboard Jungle and A Raisin in the Sun were two of his other iconic films, both of which he also performed on Broadway.
In 1992, Poitier became the first black actor to earn the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award. He was chosen as the Bahamas’ ambassador to Japan five years later, and he was knighted by the Queen in 1974. He was qualified for a substantive knighthood as a Bahamian citizen, but because he was a US resident with Bahamian ancestry, the Bahamian authorities preferred it to be an honorary accolade. He has six children and was married twice.