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Sidney Poitier, the First Black Man to Win an Oscar for a Leading Role, Has Died at 94

The stage and screen star first appeared on Broadway in 1946.

Sidney Poitier has died.
(© Joseph Marzullo)

Pioneering stage and screen star Sidney Poitier has died. He was 94.

Poitier is best remembered for his groundbreaking film roles in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, The Defiant Ones (his first Oscar nomination), Porgy and Bess, and Lillies of the Field, for which he won the 1964 Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, becoming the first Black man to do so (Hattie McDaniel became the first Black woman to win in 1939 for Gone With the Wind).

Before his Hollywood career took off, Poitier appeared on the Broadway stage, first in a short-lived production of Lysistrata in 1946, and soon after in a month-long run of Anna Lucasta. In 1959, he originated the role of Walter Lee Younger (opposite Ruby Dee as Ruth Younger) in the Broadway production of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, earning his first and only Tony nomination. Poitier reprised the role of Walter Lee Younger in the 1961 film adaptation.

Poitier returned to Broadway only once, to direct the 1968 Broadway debut of Robert Alan Aurthur's Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights. His career as a screen director was much more prolific, beginning in 1972 with Buck and the Preacher. He scored a major success in 1980 when he helmed the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder comedy Stir Crazy.

Born in 1927 in Miami to a large Bahamian family, Poitier spent much of his childhood in the Bahamas before moving to the United States. He has been celebrated in both countries: In 1974, Queen Elizabeth II made him a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 2009, President Barack Obama honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Playwright Charles Randolph-Wright and director Ruben Santiago-Hudson are currently working on a Broadway-bound play about Poitier's life, titled Sidney.


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