Trailblazing Actor and Director Sidney Poitier Has Died at 94

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Poitier continued to act into his 60s and 70s, making memorable turns in 1991’s Separate but Equal, 1992’s Sneakers, and 1997’s Mandela and de Klerk and The Jackal. Then from 1997 to 2007, Poitier served as ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan. (He was simultaneously the Bahamas’ ambassador to UNESCO from 2002 to 2007.) 

In 2021, it was announced that Poitier would be the subject of Sidney, a play written by Charles Randolph-Wright (Motown the Musical, Trouble in Mind) and directed by the Tony Award–winning actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson. “To have the trust of Mr. Poitier and his family is one of the greatest gifts I have been given—what an honor to get to dramatize the true measure of this monumental man,” Randolph-Wright told Variety. (The new work is based on one of Poitier’s best-selling memoirs, The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography.) “I look forward to the world discovering the astounding person that is behind one of our most prodigious heroes, a man who continues to inspire.”

In addition to his historic Oscar, Poitier also received the Cecil B. DeMille Award (in 1982), a Kennedy Center Honor (in 1995), the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award (in 2000), an Academy Honorary Award (in 2002), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (in 2009), and the BAFTA Fellowship (in 2016), besides amassing 10 Golden Globe nominations, 2 Emmy nominations, 6 BAFTA nominations, and a SAG nomination over the course of his career. 

With Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, and Poitier’s fellow Kennedy Center honorees (Jacques d’Amboise, Marilyn Horne, B.B. King, and Neil Simon) in 1995.Photo: Getty Images

“A star like Sidney has a brand,” the actress Katharine Houghton—who played Poitier’s fiancée in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinnertold Vanity Fair in 2017, summarizing his timeless appeal. “And Sidney worked very hard as an actor to make that brand. We didn’t use that word then, but okay, so who do I want to be? I want to be heroic; I want to be intelligent; I want to be noble; I want to be sensitive. As a black man, he was going to be judged. He knew this. He had to be better than a white man. And that was his great gift to America. He chose to be the perfect man.”

Poitier is survived by his second wife, Joanna Shimkus, whom he married in 1976; his six daughters; and multiple grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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