Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier Biography

Sir Sidney Poitier, KBE ( or ; born February 20, 1927), is an American-born Bahamian actor, film director, author, and diplomat.

In 1963, Poitier became the first black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Lilies of the Field. The significance of this achievement was later bolstered in 1967 when he starred in three successful films: To Sir, with Love; In the Heat of the Night; and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, making him the top box-office star of that year. In all three films, issues revolve around the race of the characters Poitier portrays. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Poitier among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time, ranking 22nd on the list of 25.

Poitier has directed a number of popular movies, such as A Piece of the Action, Uptown Saturday Night, Let's Do It Again (with friend Bill Cosby) and Stir Crazy (starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder). In 2002, thirty-eight years after receiving the Best Actor Award, Poitier was chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive an Honorary Award, designated "To Sidney Poitier in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being." Since 1997, he has been the Bahamian ambassador to Japan. On August 12, 2009, Sidney Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America's highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama.

Early life

Born in Miami while his parents were visiting, Sidney Poitier grew up on Cat Island in The Bahamas, and later moved to Miami, where his Bahamian parents, Evelyn (née Outten) and Reginald James Poitier, traveled to sell tomatoes and other produce from their farm on Cat Island. His birth was two months premature and he was not expected to survive, but his parents remained three months in Miami to nurse him to health. Because of his birth in the U.S., he automatically gained U.S. citizenship. Poitier was raised in a Roman Catholic family. Although, later on, he became an agnostic with views closer to deism. He grew up with his family on Cat Island, Bahamas, then a British colony. At age 10, he moved to Nassau with his family. At the age of 15 he was sent to Miami to live with his brother. At the age of 17, he moved to New York City and held a string of jobs as a dishwasher. A Jewish waiter sat with him every night for several weeks helping him learn to read the newspaper. He then decided to join the United States Army after which he worked as a dishwasher until a successful audition landed him a spot with the American Negro Theater.


Acting career

Poitier joined the American Negro Theater, but was rejected by audiences. Contrary to what was expected of black actors at the time, Poitier's tone deafness made him unable to sing. Determined to refine his acting skills and rid himself of his noticeable Bahamian accent, he spent the next six months dedicating himself to achieving theatrical success. On his second attempt at the theater, he was noticed and given a leading role in the Broadway production Lysistrata, for which he received good reviews. By the end of 1949, he had to choose between leading roles on stage and an offer to work for Darryl F. Zanuck in the film No Way Out (1950). His performance in No Way Out, as a doctor treating a white bigot (played by Richard Widmark), was noticed and led to more roles, each considerably more interesting and more prominent than those most black actors of the time were offered. Poitier's breakout role was as a member of an incorrigible high school class in Blackboard Jungle (1955).

Poitier was the first male black actor to be nominated for a competitive Academy Award (for The Defiant Ones, 1958). He was also the first black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor (for Lilies of the Field in 1963). (James Baskett was the first to receive an Oscar, an Honorary Academy Award for his performance as Uncle Remus in the Walt Disney production of Song of the South in 1948, while Hattie McDaniel predated them both, winning as Best Supporting Actress for her role in 1939's Gone with the Wind). His satisfaction at this honor was undermined by his concerns that this award was more of the industry congratulating itself for having him as a token and it would inhibit him from asking for more substantive considerations afterward. Poitier worked relatively little over the following year; he remained the only major black actor and the roles offered were predominately typecast as a soft-spoken appeaser.

He acted in the first production of A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway in 1959, and later starred in the film version released in 1961. He also gave memorable performances in The Bedford Incident (1965), and A Patch of Blue (1965) co-starring Elizabeth Hartman and Shelley Winters. In 1967, he was the most successful draw at the box office, the commercial peak of his career, with three popular films, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner; To Sir, with Love and In the Heat of the Night. The last film featured his most successful character, Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, detective whose subsequent career was the subject of two sequels: They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! (1970) and The Organization (1971).

Poitier began to be criticized for being typecast as over-idealized black characters who were not permitted to have any sexuality or personality faults, such as his character in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. Poitier was aware of this pattern himself, but was conflicted on the matter: he wanted more varied roles, but also felt obliged to set a good example with his characters to defy previous stereotypes, as he was the only major black actor in the American film industry at the time. For instance, in 1966 he turned down an opportunity to play the lead in an NBC production of Othello with that spirit in mind. In 2001, Poitier received an Honorary Academy Award for his overall contribution to American cinema. With the death of Ernest Borgnine in 2012, Poitier became the oldest living man to have won the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Directorial career

Poitier directed several films, the most successful being the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder comedy Stir Crazy which for years was the highest grossing film directed by a person of African descent. His feature film directorial debut was the western Buck and the Preacher in which Poitier also starred, alongside Harry Belafonte. Poitier replaced original director Joseph Sargent. The trio of Poitier, Cosby, and Belafonte reunited again (with Poitier again directing) in Uptown Saturday Night. Poitier also directed Cosby in Let's Do It Again, A Piece of the Action, and Ghost Dad. Poitier also directed the first popular dance battle movie Fast Forward in 1985.

From 1998 to 2003 he served as a Member of the Board of Directors of The Walt Disney Company.

Recording career

Poitier recorded an album with the composer Fred Katz called "Poitier Meets Plato" in which Poitier recites passages from Plato's writings.

Diplomatic career

In April 1997, Poitier was appointed Ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan, a position he currently holds. He is also the Ambassador of the Bahamas to UNESCO.

Personal life

Poitier was first married to Juanita Hardy from April 29, 1950, until 1965. He has been married to Joanna Shimkus, a Canadian-born former actress of Lithuanian and Irish descent, since January 23, 1976. He has four daughters with his first wife and two with his second: Beverly, Pamela, Sherri, Gina, Anika, and Sydney Tamiia.

Honors and awards

  • 1958 British Academy Film Award for Best Foreign Actor for The Defiant Ones
  • 1958 Silver Bear for Best Actor (Berlin Film Festival) for The Defiant Ones
  • 1963 Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Lilies of the Field
  • 1963 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama for Lilies of the Field
  • 1963 Silver Bear for Best Actor (Berlin Film Festival) for Lilies of the Field
  • 1974 Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE)
  • 1982 Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award
  • 1992 AFI Life Achievement Award
  • 1995 Kennedy Center Honors
  • 1997 Appointed non-resident Bahamian Ambassador to Japan
  • 1999 SAG Life Achievement Award
  • 2000 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special for The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn
  • 2001 NAACP Image Award - Hall of Fame Award
  • 2001 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album " Rick Harris, John Runnette (producers) and Sidney Poitier for The Measure of a Man
  • 2002 Honorary Oscar " "For his extraordinary performances and unique presence on the screen and for representing the industry with dignity, style and intelligence"
  • 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • 2011 Film Society of Lincoln Center Gala Tribute honoring his life and careers



Year Title Role Notes
1947 Sepia Cinderella Extra Uncredited
1949 From Whence Cometh My Help Himself Documentary
1950 No Way Out Dr. Luther Brooks
1951 Cry, the Beloved Country Reverend Msimangu
1952 Red Ball Express Cpl. Andrew Robertson
1954 Go, Man, Go! Inman Jackson
1955 Blackboard Jungle Gregory W. Miller
1956 Good-bye, My Lady Gates Watson
1957 Edge of the City Tommy Tyler Nominated "? BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1957 Something of Value Kimani Wa Karanja
1957 Band of Angels Rau-Ru Ponce de Leon
1957 ' Obam
1958 Virgin Island Marcus
1958 ' Noah Cullen BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Silver Bear for Best Actor
Nominated "? Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated "? Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
1959 Porgy and Bess Porgy Nominated "? Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1960 All the Young Men Sgt. Eddie Towler
1961 ' Walter Lee Younger Nominated "? BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated "? Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
1961 Paris Blues Eddie Cook
1962 Pressure Point Doctor (Chief Psychiatrist)
1963 ' Aly Mansuh
1963 Lilies of the Field Homer Smith Academy Award for Best Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
Nominated "? BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Silver Bear for Best Actor
1965 ' Ben Munceford
1965 ' Simon of Cyrene
1965 ' Gordon Ralfe Nominated "? BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated "? Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
1965 ' Alan Newell
1966 Duel at Diablo Toller (contract horse dealer)
1967 To Sir, with Love Mark Thackeray
1967 In the Heat of the Night Det. Virgil Tibbs Nominated "? BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated "? Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
1967 Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Dr. John Wade Prentice
1968 For Love of Ivy Jack Parks
1969 ' Jason Higgs
1970 King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis Narrator documentary
1970 They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! Virgil Tibbs
1971 Brother John John Kane
1971 ' Detective Lieutenant Virgil Tibbs SFPD Homicide
1972 Buck and the Preacher Buck
1974 ' Matt Younger
1974 Uptown Saturday Night Steve Jackson
1975 ' Shack Twala
1975 Let's Do it Again Clyde Williams
1977 ' Manny Durrell
1979 Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist Narrator short subject
1988 Shoot to Kill Warren Stantin
1988 Little Nikita Roy Parmenter
1992 Sneakers Donald Crease
1994 ' Himself documentary
1996 Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick Himself documentary
1996 To Sir, with Love II Mark Thackeray
1997 ' FBI Deputy Director Carter Preston
2001 Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey Narrator documentary
2004 Tell Them Who You Are Himself documentary
2008 Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project Himself documentary


Year Title
1972 Buck and the Preacher
1973 '
1974 Uptown Saturday Night
1975 Let's Do it Again
1977 '
1980 Stir Crazy
1982 Hanky Panky
1985 Fast Forward
1990 Ghost Dad


Year Title Role Notes
1991 Separate But Equal Thurgood Marshall Nominated "? Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor " Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated "? Golden Globe Award for Best Actor " Miniseries or Television Film
1995 Children of the Dust Gypsy Smith
1996 To Sir, with Love II Mark Thackeray
1997 Mandela and de Klerk Nelson Mandela Nominated "? Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor " Miniseries or a Movie
1998 David and Lisa Dr. Jack Miller
1999 ' Noah Dearborn
1999 Free of Eden Will Cleamons
2001 ' Henry Cobb

Works about Poitier


Poitier has written three autobiographical books:

  • This Life (1980)
  • The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography (2000)
  • Life Beyond Measure " letters to my Great-Granddaughter (2008, an Oprah's Book Club selection).
Poitier is also the subject of the biography Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (2004) by historian Aram Goudsouzian.

Poitier wrote the novel Montaro Caine, released in May 2013.

Movies about Poitier

  • Sidney Poitier, an Outsider in Hollywood (Sidney Poitier, an outsider à Hollywood). Documentary film by Catherine Arnaud. Arte, France, 2008, 70 minutes.
  • Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light. American Masters, PBS. USA, 2000. 60 minutes.

See also

  • List of African American firsts
  • David Hampton, an impostor who posed as Poitier's son "David" in 1983, which inspired a play and a film, *Six Degrees of Separation

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Sidney_Poitier" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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