Sidney Poitier, movie star, civil rights activist and Oscar trailblazer, dead at 94

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Sidney Poitier on the set of To Sir with Love in 1966.

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Iconic film star Sidney Poitier, the first black actor to win an Oscar for Best Actor, has died. He was 94 years old.


Poitier won an Oscar for the 1963 play Lily of the Field, becoming the second African-American to win an Academy Award. He was the first black person to be nominated for Best Actor for 1958’s The Defiant Ones, but his victory came when Hattie McDaniel won Best Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind.

Born unexpectedly on a weekend trip to Miami in 1927, Poitier was raised in the Bahamas. He emigrated to America at the age of 15 and, after lying about his age, served in the US Army during World War II, working in a Veterans Hospital. After becoming a stage actor with the American Negro Theatre, he got his breakthrough film role in 1955’s Blackboard Jungle.

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As well as being a leading black leading man, he was a visible activist for civil rights. It was only in 1967, at the height of the civil rights movement, that she starred in three classic films that dealt with racial tensions: To Sir, With Love; Guess who’s coming for dinner, and in the heat of the night.

Poitier also directed several films and in later life served as the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan.

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