Poitier was born in Miami, Florida, in Coconut Grove, where his Bahamian parents, Evelyn (née Outten) and Reginald James Poitier, traveled to sell tomatoes and other produce from their farm on Cat Island. His birth was premature and he was not expected to survive, but his parents remained three months in Miami to nurse him to health. Due to his stateside delivery, he automatically gained U.S. citizenship. Poitier was raised in a Catholic family. He grew up with his family on Cat Island, The Bahamas, then a British colony. At age 10, he moved to Nassau with his family. At the age of 15 he was sent to Miami to live with his brother. At the age of 17, he moved to New York City and held a string of menial jobs. He then decided to join the United States Army after which he worked as a dishwasher until a successful audition landed him a spot with the American Negro Theater.
Sir Sidney Poitier, born February 20, 1927) is a Bahamian American actor, film director, author, and diplomat.
In 1963, Poitier became the first black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Lilies of the Field. The significance of this achievement was later bolstered in 1967 when he starred in three well-received films To Sir, with Love; In the Heat of the Night; and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, making him the top box office star of that year. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Poitier among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time, ranking 22nd on the list of 25.
Poitier has directed a number of popular movies such as A Piece of the Action; Uptown Saturday Night, and Let’s Do It Again (with friend Bill Cosby), and Stir Crazy (starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder). In 2002, 38 years after receiving the Best Actor Award, Poitier was chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive an Honorary Award, designated “To Sidney Poitier in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being.” Since 1997 he has been the Bahamian ambassador to Japan. On August 12, 2009, Sidney Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama.
Poitier gets the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2009.
Poitier joined the American Negro Theater, but was rejected by audiences. Contrary to what was expected of black actors at the time, Poitier’s tone deafness made him unable to sing. Determined to refine his acting skills and rid himself of his noticeable Bahamian accent, he spent the next six months dedicating himself to achieving theatrical success. On his second attempt at the theater, he was noticed and given a leading role in the Broadway production Lysistrata, for which he received good reviews. By the end of 1949, he had to choose between leading roles on stage and an offer to work for Darryl F. Zanuck in the film No Way Out (1950). His performance in No Way Out, as a doctor treating a white bigot (played by Richard Widmark), was noticed and led to more roles, each considerably more interesting and more prominent than those most black actors of the time were offered. Poitier’s breakout role was as a member of an incorrigible high school class in Blackboard Jungle (1955).
Poitier was the first male black actor to be nominated for a competitive Academy Award (for The Defiant Ones, 1958). He was also the first black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor (for Lilies of the Field in 1963). (James Baskett was the first to receive an Oscar, an Honorary Academy Award for his performance as Uncle Remus in the Walt Disney production of Song of the South in 1948, while Hattie McDaniel predated them both, winning as Best Supporting Actress for her role in 1939′s Gone with the Wind).
He acted in the first production of A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway in 1959, and later starred in the film version released in 1961. He also gave memorable performances in The Bedford Incident (1965), and A Patch of Blue (1965) co-starring Elizabeth Hartman and Shelley Winters. In 1967, he was the most successful draw at the box office, the commercial peak of his career, with three successful films, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; To Sir, with Love and In the Heat of the Night. The last film featured his most successful character, Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, detective whose subsequent career was the subject of two sequels: They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! (1970) and The Organization (1971).
Poitier began to be criticized for being typecast as over-idealized black characters who were not permitted to have any sexuality or personality faults, such as his character in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. Poitier was aware of this pattern himself, but was conflicted on the matter: he wanted more varied roles, but also felt obliged to set a good example with his characters to defy previous stereotypes, as he was the only major black actor in the American film industry at the time. In 2001, Poitier received an Honorary Academy Award for his overall contribution to American cinema.
Poitier directed several films, the most successful being the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder comedy Stir Crazy which for years was the highest grossing film directed by a person of African descent. His feature film directorial debut was the western Buck and the Preacher in which Poitier also starred, alongside Harry Belafonte. Poitier replaced original director Joseph Sargent. The trio of Poitier, Cosby, and Belafonte reunited again (with Poitier again directing) in Uptown Saturday Night. Poitier also directed Cosby in Let’s Do It Again, A Piece of the Action, and Ghost Dad. Poitier also directed the first popular dance battle movie Fast Forward in 1985.
From 1998 to 2003 he served as a Member of the Board of Directors of The Walt Disney Company.
In April 1997, Poitier was appointed Ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan, a position he currently holds. He is also the Ambassador of the Bahamas to UNESCO.
Poitier was first married to Juanita Hardy from April 29, 1950 until 1965. He has been married to Joanna Shimkus, a Canadian-born former actress of Lithuanian and Irish descent, since January 23, 1976. He has four daughters with his first wife and two with his second: Beverly, Pamela, Sherri, Gina, Anika, Sydney Tamiia..
FLaConnection, Arnoldo Varona, Editor