Sidney Poitier ( PWAH-tyay; February 20, 1927 – January 6, 2022) was a Bahamian and American actor, film director, and diplomat. In 1964, he was the first African American actor and first Bahamian to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. He received two competitive Golden Globe Awards, a competitive British Academy of Film and Television Arts award (BAFTA), and a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album. Poitier was one of the last major stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema.
Poitier's family lived in the Bahamas, then still a Crown colony, but he was born unexpectedly in Miami, Florida, while they were visiting, which automatically granted him U.S. citizenship. He grew up in the Bahamas, but moved to Miami at age 15, and to New York City when he was 16. He joined the American Negro Theatre, landing his breakthrough film role as a high school student in the film Blackboard Jungle (1955). In 1958, Poitier starred with Tony Curtis as chained-together escaped convicts in The Defiant Ones, which received nine Academy Award nominations; both actors received nominations for Best Actor, with Poitier's being the first for a Black actor. They both also had Best Actor nominations for the BAFTAs, with Poitier winning. Additionally Poitier won the Silver Bear for Best Actor for his performance in the film. In 1964, he won the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Actor for Lilies of the Field (1963), playing a handyman helping a group of German-speaking nuns build a chapel.Poitier also received acclaim for Porgy and Bess (1959), A Raisin in the Sun (1961), and A Patch of Blue (1965), because of his strong roles as epic African American male characters. He continued to break ground 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, the latter of which won the Academy Award for Best Picture for that year. He received Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for his performance in the last film, and in a poll the next year he was voted the US's top box-office star. Beginning in the 1970s, Poitier also directed various comedy films, including Stir Crazy (1980), starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, among other films. After nearly a decade away from acting, he returned to television and film starring in Shoot to Kill (1988) and Sneakers (1992).
Poitier was granted a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974. In 1982, he received the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award. In 1995, he received the Kennedy Center Honor. From 1997 to 2007, he was the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan. In 1999, he ranked 22nd among male actors on the "100 Years...100 Stars" list by the American Film Institute and received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. In 2002, he was given an Honorary Academy Award, in recognition of his "remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being". In 2009, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, by President Barack Obama. In 2016, he was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship for outstanding lifetime achievement in film.