Actor, film director, civil rights activist, author, ambassador, father—Sir Sidney Poitier was a groundbreaking international film icon whose life, both onscreen and off, stood as an example of strength, passion, depth and integrity.
Over the course of his long and varied career, Poitier starred in more than 40 films, directed nine, and wrote four. His many memorable roles as an actor include “The Defiant Ones,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “A Patch of Blue,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “To Sir, With Love,” and “Sneakers.” For his outstanding performance in “Lilies of the Field,” a 1963 film set and shot in Arizona, Poitier became the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Among many other accolades, Poitier was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award, the Screen Actors Guild’s Life Achievement Award, a Kennedy Center Honors Award, an NAACP Image Award, a Grammy Award for best spoken word album, and an honorary Academy Award “for his extraordinary performances and unique presence on the screen and for representing the industry with dignity, style, and intelligence.”
The youngest of seven children, Sidney Poitier was born in Miami, Florida, on Feb. 20, 1927, and grew up on Cat Island, in the Bahamas. When he was 15, he was sent to live with his brother’s family in Miami; at 16 he moved to New York, where he held a string of jobs as a dishwasher before lying about his age in order to enlist in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the Army, he worked as a dishwasher again, until a successful audition with the American Negro Theatre launched him on his way as an actor, first on stage and then on screen.