Sidney Poitier, first black actor to win an Oscar, dead at 94

Hollywood actor Sidney Poitier, the first black man to win an Oscar for best actor, has died. He was 94 years old. The cause of death is not yet known.

Fred Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Bahamas, where Poitier spent his early years, up confirmed his death on Friday morning.

Poitier was born in Miami on February 20, 1927 and raised on a on farm in the Bahamas. He went back to Miami as a teenager where he struggled against prejudice to gain recognition in Hollywood and be accepted by mainstream audiences. He is reported to have had just one year of formal schooling.

In 1964, he won the Academy Award and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for ‘Lilies of the Field’ (1963) playing a handyman helping a group of German-speaking nuns build a chapel.

He was the lead in three successful 1967 films which dealt with issues of race and race relations: ‘To Sir, with Love’; ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’, and ‘In the Heat of the Night’. He received Golden Globe Award and British Academy Film Award nominations for his performance in the latter film.

Poitier was later granted an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974. In 2009, Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.

Poitier was also the recipient of a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album.

In 1982, he received the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award and in 2000, he received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award.

In 2002, Poitier was chosen to receive an Academy Honorary Award, in recognition of his “remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being.”

From 1997 to 2007, Poitier served as Bahamian Ambassador to Japan.

Poitier is survived by his wife, Joanna Shimkus, a retired actress from Canada; and six daughters, four with his first wife, Juanita Hardy.

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