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Sidney Poitier, first Black winner of best actor Oscar, dies at 94

Performer and activist Sidney Poitier, the first Black winner of the best actor Oscar, has died at 94.

Poitier, who was born in Miami to Bahamian parents, died Thursday in the Bahamas, acting director general of the nation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Eugene Torchon-Newry told news outlets.

The actor, who also served as the Bahamas’ ambassador to Japan for 10 years, received a British knighthood in 1974, a Kennedy Center Honor in 1995 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-President Obama in 2009.

Poitier, who starred in “A Raisin in the Sun” and “In the Heat of the Night,” won his 1964 Academy Award for his performance as a handyman who builds a church for a group of nuns in “Lilies of the Field.”

Before Poitier, no Black thespian maintained a career as a lead actor or saw films produced based on his own power as a performer. For years, he was the only popular Black movie star.

“I felt very much as if I were representing 15, 18 million people with every move I made,” he once wrote.

Poitier also notably played an escaped convict in “The Defiant One,” an office worker in “A Patch of Blue” and a teacher in London’s East End in “To Sir, with Love.”

“I made films when the only other Black on the lot was the shoeshine boy,” Poitier told Newsweek in 1988. “I was kind of the lone guy in town.”

Poitier faced discrimination despite his stardom, including difficulty in finding housing in Los Angeles. He was followed by the Ku Klux Klan on a visit to Mississippi in 1964 in the wake of multiple murders of civil rights workers.

Poitier participated in the 1963 March on Washington, among other prominent civil rights events. His roles as forgiving and reconciling Black men were sometimes criticized by other civil rights activists.

Tributes to the late star poured in on social media.

“He showed us how to reach for the stars,” “The View” co-host and fellow Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg wrote on Twitter. “My condolences to his family and to all of us as well.”

“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,” Tyler Perry said on Instagram.

Tags A Patch of Blue Academy Awards Barack Obama In the Heat of the Night Lilies of the Field oscar winners Oscars Sidney Poitier Tyler Perry Whoopi Goldberg

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