Rain of tributes as Sidney Poitier dies at 94

Sidney Poitier is dead. The first black man to win a Best Actor Oscar, has died at 94, and there’s been a harvest of tributes since his death Thursday night.

The BBC describes Poitier, who was born in Miami and grew up on a tomato farm in the Bahamas before moving to New York aged 16, as a trailblazing actor and a respected humanitarian and diplomat, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor for Lilies of the Field in 1963.

President Joe Biden said, in part, in his statement, “Sidney was more than just one of the finest actors in our history. His iconic performances in films like The Defiant Ones, A Raisin in the Sun, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night held a mirror up to America’s racial attitudes in the 1950s and 1960s. With unflinching grandeur and poise — his singular warmth, depth, and stature on-screen — Sidney helped open the hearts of millions and changed the way America saw itself.”

Former US President Barack Obama said Poitier “epitomised dignity and grace” and had “singular talent”, and revealed “the power of movies to bring us closer together” and “opened doors for a generation of actors”.

Music titan and founder of Motown records Berry Gordy said, “Today, the world has lost an icon, and I have lost one of my dearest friends, the great Sidney Poitier. He was a man of grace, integrity and someone I long admired.  He is in a class by himself. He adored his family and friends, and my condolences go out to his incredible wife, Joanna, and his beautiful girls.”

For broadcaster and journalist, Oprah Winfrey “the greatest of the ‘Great Trees’ has fallen,” saying the actor “had an enormous soul I will forever cherish”.

“It was a privilege to call Sidney Poitier my friend. He was a gentle man and opened doors for all of us that had been closed for years. God bless him and his family,” said actor and Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington.

Fellow Oscar winner Viola Davis celebrated Poitier’s talent and his work, opening doors for the Black actors who followed him through his electric performances. 

“This is a big one. No words can describe how your work radically shifted my life. The dignity, normalcy, strength, excellence and sheer electricity you brought to your roles showed us that we, as Black folks, mattered!!!”

The actress Kerry Washington thanked Sidney Poitier on Friday, writing that the actor had opened the door for others like her.

“We lost an elegant King today,” she wrote in a tweet. “Thank you Sidney Poitier. For not only opening the door, but for walking in this world with endless grace and excellence, so that today, still, we follow behind you, reaching toward the example that you set.”

“Our whole Bahamas grieves. But even as we mourn, we celebrate the life of a great Bahamian,” said the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Philip Davis, “His strength of character, his willingness to stand up and be counted and the way he plotted and navigated his life’s journey.

“The boy who moved from the tomato farm to become a waiter in the United States, a young man who not only taught himself to read and write, but who made the expression of words and thoughts and feelings central to his career.”

Actor John Amos, who starred with Poitier in 1975’s Let’s Do It Again, spoke to the privilege of working with the late actor on the film. “Sidney was both outstanding as a dramatic and comedic actor. He shined both on-camera as well as off-camera. Because of his humble beginnings and the heights to which he rose, he was a mentor to me on the wonderful film we worked on together. He was a gifted, professional actor and a heartfelt friend who I have always admired and respected. I learned from him each time we spent time together. The world is a better place because of him. There will never be another Sidney Poitier.”

The Oscar winning director Spike Lee took to Instagram to celebrate Poitier’s legacy, calling him “A proud, dignified, handsome and strong black man that we see in our communities all the time but now burst and burnt through the silver screens of Hollywood”.

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”.

James Bond and Westworld actor Jeffrey Wright added that Poitier was a “landmark actor”.

And the director, Sir Steve McQueen, called Poitier “an icon to the Black diaspora”.

Actress Whoopi Goldberg quoted the lyrics to the song “To Sir With Love”, which soundtracked Poitier’s 1967 film of the same title. “He showed us how to reach for the stars,” she noted, while actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt called him “an absolute legend”.

Former Disney CEO, Bob Iger, paid tribute to Poitier as “the most dignified man I’ve ever met”. 

Lulu, who sang the theme song for the classic film To Sir, With Love, hailed the actor as her ‘friend,’ ‘teacher,’ and ‘inspiration’ in a heartwarming post on her Instagram page.

While Robert Redford added in a statement, “Sidney was not just a great actor, he was a civil rights giant and a dedicated humanitarian. We developed a friendship when we worked together. I appreciated his kindness, elegance and his sense of humor.”

Don Cheadle said he was, “Gutted. Again. Lost another royal.” 

The actor’s kin remembered him as “a man who always put family first.”

They said in a statement: “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.”

Director, writer and actor Tyler Perry wrote “…to wake up this morning to a call that Sidney Poitier has passed away…all I can tell you is that my heart broke in another place,” Perry wrote on Instagram. “The grace and class that this man has shown throughout his entire life, the example he set for me, not only as a Black man but as a human being will never be forgotten.”

Harry Belafonte, a longtime friend and constant collaborator with Sidney Poitier, remembered him on Friday as a “brother and partner” who worked with him to try to improve the world.

“For over 80 years, Sidney and I laughed, cried and made as much mischief as we could,” Mr. Belafonte said in a statement. “He was truly my brother and partner in trying to make this world a little better. He certainly made mine a whole lot better.”

Fellow Oscar winner Octavia Spencer recalled meeting him and the impact his support had on her as a performer via her Instagram. 

“I will never forget the occasion where I met Mr. Poitier. I had just won an award and he and Helen Mirren were walking through the kitchen to the stage to present. When I have an overload of adrenaline it has an adverse affect. I can’t bend my knees. So, there I am with my heels and an award in my hands, shell shocked and sweaty, Glaring at the two of them. I was searching for the one word to say but couldn’t remember any. I must’ve been a pitiful sight because he stopped with the biggest smile and congratulated me. I finally blurted out I love you… both. He told me he expected great things from me. There’s something about hearing those words from a pioneer that changes you!”

The actress Lee Grant — who appeared in the film In the Heat of the Night alongside Mr. Poitier — wrote on Twitter that the actor was a “force of nature” and “one of most intelligent, beautiful, and unstoppable human beings I’ve ever known.”

“He made our world, and my life, better in ways we still may not entirely comprehend,” she wrote. “Calling him a legend doesn’t do it justice. He was Sidney Poitier.”

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