Sir Sidney dies at 94

Sir Sidney Poitier, an award-winning actor, author, director, cultural icon and a great Bahamian, has died.

He was 94.

The beloved actor, a trailblazer who helped transform how Black people were portrayed in Hollywood, was the first Black actor nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for the 1958 movie “The Defiant Ones.”

Over the years, he has earned numerous honors and awards in a career spanning several decades.

In 1963, Sir Sidney became the first Black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in “Lilies of the Field”. He went on to star in numerous other movies, including “To Sir, With Love,” “In the Heat of the Night,” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”. 

Sir Sidney, the son of Cat Island farmers, served as non-resident Bahamian ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2007. The western bridge that connects New Providence to Paradise Island was named in his honor in 2012 as part of the country’s independence celebrations.

In 2009, then United States President Barack Obama awarded Sir Sidney the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

On Friday, as news of his death spread, tributes poured in from across the world.

Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis was among those who expressed sorrow.

“The whole Bahamas grieves and extends our deepest condolences to his family,” Davis said during a live address.

“But even as we mourn, we celebrate the life of a great Bahamian: a cultural icon, an actor and film director, an entrepreneur, civil and human rights activist and, latterly, a diplomat.

“We admire the man, not just because of his colossal achievements, but also because of who he was: his strength of character; his willingness to stand up and be counted; and the way he plotted and navigated his life’s journey.

“The man who expressed his rage against racial injustice through quiet dignity; the humanitarian who used his steely determination not just to better himself, but to better the world that he lived in, filtered through the milk of human kindness.

“The boy who moved from the tomato farm of Cat Island to become a waiter in the United States; the young man who not only taught himself to read and write, but who made the expression of words and thoughts and feelings central to his career.”

Davis said he has instructed that the Bahamian flag be flown at half-mast in The Bahamas and at Bahamian embassies around the world in honor of Sir Sidney.

“Sir Sidney’s light will continue to shine brightly for generations to come,” Davis added.

The prime minister said while The Bahamas gave Sir Sidney his “flowers” while he was alive, more could have been done.

“We have not done enough I think,” he said in response to a question from a reporter. “We intend to sit as a government to determine to see what else we can do to mark his bearing in The Bahamas and the world.”

Davis said in due course the government will reveal its plans to honor Sir Sidney.

In a statement, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said of Sir Sidney, “His was a long, productive, and meaningful life that served to expose racial inequalities both in the United States of America and in this country. 

“His support together with that of a number of his contemporary black film actors, played an important role in the struggle for civil rights in America.  His Oscar win opened the door through which countless talented black and other minority actors would follow.”

Sir Sidney was born prematurely on February 20, 1927, in Miami, Florida while his parents were  there delivering tomatoes.  Poitier later left the United States with his parents for The Bahamas, where he spent his early years on his father’s farm on Cat Island. When he was 15, Sir Sidney’s father sent him to live with one of his brothers in Miami.  Sir Sidney eventually traveled to New York City where he worked menial jobs to support himself, until he discovered his passion for the stage and the screen.

Multiple Hollywood actors also paid tribute to iconic actor.

“The grace and class that this man has shown throughout his entire life, the example he set for me, not only as a Black man but as a human being will never be forgotten,” American actor and director Tyler Perry shared on Facebook.

“…All I can say is thank you for your life, thank you for your example, and thank you for your incredible gift. But most of all, thank you for being willing to share YOU to make us all better.”

American actor Debbie Allen said on Twitter: “Sidney Poitier, your last sunset with us is the dawn of many generations rising in the path of light you blazed. We will always hold you in our hearts and forever speak your name.”

** This story has been updated.

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