Oscar Winning and First Black Movie Star Sidney Poitier Dies at 94

Time Of Info By TOI Desk Report   January 8, 2022   Update on : January 8, 2022

Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier, who became Hollywood’s first Black movie star and the first Black man to win an Oscar for best actor for his graceful manner and upright onscreen roles, has died. He was 94 years old at the time.

Poitier died Thursday evening, according to Clint Watson, the Prime Minister of the Bahamas’ press secretary.

Poitier rose to the pinnacle of his profession despite coming from a poor family in the Bahamas and softening his heavy island accent at a period when important opportunities for Black performers were few. He received the Academy Award for “Lilies of the Field,” a 1963 film in which he played an itinerant laborer who assists a group of White nuns in the construction of a chapel.

As Americans grappled with the societal upheavals produced by the civil rights movement, several of his best-known films examined racial tensions. In 1967 alone, he played a Philadelphia cop facing discrimination in small-town Mississippi in “In the Heat of the Night” and a doctor in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” who wins over his White fiancée’s suspicious parents.

Poitier’s films had a hard time finding distribution in the South, and his acting options were restricted to what White-run companies could provide. For example, racial taboos kept him out of most romance roles. His dignified roles, on the other hand, let audiences in the 1950s and 1960s see Black people as physicians, teachers, and detectives, not simply as servants.

Simultaneously, as the lone Black leading man in 1960s Hollywood, he was subjected to intense scrutiny. He was acclaimed as a noble icon of his race much too often, and he was chastised by some Black people who claimed he had betrayed them by playing sanitized parts and catering to Whites.

In 2000, Poitier told Oprah Winfrey, “It’s been a great duty.” “And I embraced it, and I tried to conduct my life in a way that demonstrated how much I valued that duty. I had no choice. Certain things have to be done in order for others to follow behind me.”

He overcomes significant obstacles as a young actor

Sidney Poitier, the youngest of seven children, was born prematurely in Miami on February 20, 1927, and was so little he could fit in his father’s hand. His parents were tomato farmers who moved back and forth between Florida and the Bahamas on a regular basis.

He wasn’t supposed to make it. His mother sought the advice of a palm reading, who calmed her anxieties.

“‘Don’t worry about your son,’ the lady said to my mother as she grabbed her hand in hers. He’ll make it,’ says the author “In 2013, Poitier told CBS News. “And these were her words: ‘He will walk with kings,’ she declared.”

In a picture from the 1967 film “To Sir, with Love,” Sidney Poitier plays a teacher who must win over his students.

Poitier’s parents sent him from the Bahamas to live with an older brother in Miami when he was 15, believing that he would have more possibilities there. His father drove him to the pier and handed him $3.

“‘Take care of yourself, son,’ he said. He also swung me around to face the boat “In 2009, Poitier told NPR.

Poitier disliked Miami and moved north to New York to pursue a career as an actor. It didn’t start off well. He struggled to read a screenplay due to his lack of formal education.

However, he found work as a dishwasher at a restaurant, where a chance encounter changed his life forever. An older server took an interest in the adolescent and read the newspaper with him after work to help him improve his understanding, grammar, and punctuation.

Poitier told CBS News, “Every night, the place is closed, everyone’s gone, and he sat there with me week after week after week.” “He also educated me on punctuation. He explained where the dots were and what the dots meant in the context of these two phrases, among other things.”

Poitier soon found work with the American Negro Theatre, where he studied acting, lowered his Bahamian accent, and secured a theatrical role as Harry Belafonte’s understudy. This led to Broadway parts, which finally drew the notice of Hollywood.

He refused to do parts that he thought were insulting to him

Poitier made his cinematic debut in the 1950 noir “No Way Out,” in which he portrayed a young doctor who must cure a racist patient. That led to parts as a priest in “Cry, the Beloved Country,” a disturbed student in “Blackboard Jungle,” and an escaped prisoner in “The Defiant Ones,” in which he and Tony Curtis were imprisoned together and forced to get along to live. Poitier became the first Black man to be nominated for an Academy Award with the picture in 1958.

In the 1950s, however, finding complicated roles for a dark-skinned actor was tough.

“(Blacks) were mostly unknown in Hollywood at the time. We had practically little context other than that of clichéd, one-dimensional individuals “Winfrey was informed by Poitier. “I was thinking about what was expected of me, not just by other Blacks, but also by my mother and father. And what I had hoped for from myself.”

Poitier made a conscious decision early on to refuse jobs that didn’t align with his principles or that cast a negative light on his race. He told Winfrey that as a poor young actor, he turned down a $750-per-week job because he didn’t like the character, a janitor who didn’t respond after criminals murdered his daughter and dumped her body in his yard.

“I couldn’t envision myself in that role. ‘That’s not the type of employment I want,’ I told myself. I also informed my agency that I wouldn’t be able to play the part “Poitier remarked. “‘Why can’t you play it?’ he said. ‘There’s nothing racially disparaging about that,’ I remarked, ‘and I can’t do it.’ He was never able to comprehend.”

Nonetheless, by the late 1950s, Poitier had established himself as a regular actor. In 1959, he made his Broadway debut in “A Raisin in the Sun,” and two years later, he starred in the film adaptation. The drama “A Patch of Blue,” in which his character had a chaste affair with a blind white woman, followed, as did the biblical epic “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and the drama “Lilies of the Field.”

Poitier became involved in the civil rights movement as a result of his relationship with the more vocal Belafonte. In the days following the notorious slayings of three young civil rights workers, he flew to Mississippi to speak with organizers and join the 1963 March on Washington.

However, when interviewers pressed him too hard about his encounters with prejudice, Poitier became irritated.

He told Winfrey, “Racism was horrible, but there were other elements to existence.” “Some people allow their lives to be defined only by their race. I correct anyone who approaches me just on the basis of race.”

This year has been unlike any other

Then came 1967, one of the most memorable years in the career of any Hollywood star before or after. Starting with “To Sir, With Love,” a British drama about an idealistic teacher who must win over unruly youngsters in a harsh East London school, Poitier acted in three high-profile films.

Poitier was asking $1 million per picture at the time, and the directors weren’t convinced they could afford him. So they agreed to pay the actor’s scale (the legal minimum) in exchange for a portion of the film’s box office receipts. Although it is now customary in Hollywood, it was a revolutionary notion at the time — and one that Poitier capitalized on. “To Sir, With Love” became a tremendous success, and he made a lot of money.

The following film was Norman Jewison’s “In the Heat of the Night,” in which Poitier played his most memorable performance. He portrayed Virgil Tibbs, a homicide detective who is stopped by a racist White police chief (Rod Steiger) as a probable suspect in killing while driving through Mississippi. Tibbs grudgingly agrees to stay and assist in the investigation, and the two men gradually develop a grudging respect for one another.

After a degrading remark by Steiger’s character, Poitier’s most famous statement — “They call me Mister Tibbs!” — was inspired by the film.

Tibbs gets smacked in the face by a racist plantation owner in another unforgettable moment, and then smacks him right back. Poitier demanded a screenplay revision to include the retaliatory slap and even modified his contract to prevent the studio from removing the sequence before agreeing to perform the picture.

In 2013, CBS News’ Lesley Stahl told Poitier, “And of course, that is one of those classic, wonderful moments in all of the film, when you slap him back.” “Yes, I knew I would have insulted every Black person in the world (if I hadn’t),” he said.

Poitier’s doctor character must persuade Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn’s characters to let him marry their daughter in Stanley Kramer’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” another message picture about racial tolerance. Six months after the Supreme Court ruled interracial marriage lawful in all 50 states, the film was released.

Around the same time, some African-Americans began to complain that Poitier’s saintly, non-sexualized characters bore little resemblance to the complicated reality of African-American life. In a 1967 New York Times essay, black writer Clifford Mason contended that Poitier portrayed the same character in all of his films: “a wonderful person in a wholly white society, with no wife, sweetheart, no woman to love or kiss, helping the white man solve the white man’s issue.”
Poitier was so hurt by the comments that he went to the Bahamas for months.
“I experienced people turning on me. “I was the most successful Black actor in the history of the country for a few of years,” Poitier told Winfrey. “Most of the criticism I received stemmed from the fact that I was generally the only Black person in the movie.” That, in my opinion, was a step (ahead).”

Later in life, he worked as a filmmaker and then in television

Poitier shifted from performing to directing in the 1970s, believing that it allowed him greater control over his film ventures. For his directorial debut, he teamed up with his chum Harry Belafonte for the Western “Buck and the Preacher.” He directed and co-starred with Bill Cosby in the comedic caper “Uptown Saturday Night,” which featured mostly Black actors, as did its spiritual successors “Let’s Do It Again” and “A Piece of the Action.”
In 1980, he directed “Stir Crazy,” a prison-break comedy starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder that became one of his biggest blockbusters.

Poitier continued to appear onscreen irregularly throughout the 1990s, most notably in the 1988 action thriller “Shoot to Kill,” opposite Robert Redford in the 1992 caper picture “Sneakers,” and with Bruce Willis and Richard Gere in 1997’s “The Jackal,” his final film performance.
He also returned to television after a long absence, receiving Emmy nominations for his roles as US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and South African statesman Nelson Mandela in two miniseries. He was also considered for the part of President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet on the TV show “The West Wing,” which went to Martin Sheen in the end.
Poitier had retired from acting by 2000, opting instead to play golf and write “The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography,” a book in which he detailed his lifetime struggle to live according to the values instilled in him by his father and those he respected.
The plaudits flowed in during his later years, as Hollywood tried to acknowledge a man whose example had opened doors for so many other Black performers. Poitier was honored with an honorary Academy Award in 2001 for his contributions to American cinema. “Forty years I’ve been hunting Sidney,” Denzel Washington stated after winning his best actor Oscar for “Training Day” the next year. Sidney, I’ll constantly be chasing you. “I’ll be following in your footsteps at all times.”

“It’s been said that Sidney Poitier does not produce movies, he builds milestones… milestones of creative quality, milestones of America’s growth,” President Barack Obama stated upon presenting Poitier with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2009.
Poitier received the top honor from the Film Society of Lincoln Center in 2011. “In the history of cinema, there have only been a few performers who, once they acquired notoriety, their impact irrevocably transformed the art form,” said Quentin Tarantino, who was one of the speakers applauding him. There is a period of time before their arrival and a period of time following their arrival. And nothing will ever be the same again when they arrive. In terms of movies, there was Hollywood before Poitier and Hollywood after Poitier.”

What did Sidney Potier get paid for Lilies of the Field?

The narrative of carpenter Homer Smith is told in Lilies of the Field, which was based on a 92-page novella by William Edmund Barret. Smith comes into a convent of nuns while traveling the Arizona desert and resolves to aid the destitute ladies with odd labor in return for meals. However, the nuns’ mother superior is certain that Smith was sent by God, and the carpenter soon finds himself constructing a church beneath the sweltering heat.

Ralph Nelson, the director of Lilies of the Field, was working on a tight budget to produce the film—so tight, in fact, that Nelson put his home up as collateral to ensure the film’s completion. According to IMBd, when Poitier was contacted for the part of Homer Smith, he famously forewent his customary compensation in exchange for a lower price and a portion of the earnings. While it’s unknown what Portier’s base compensation was, his risk paid off handsomely. Lilies of the Field went on to become a tremendous box office hit, grossing an estimated $7 million and winning Poitier his first Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the picture.

What was Sidney Potier’s pay for To Sir, With Love?

To Sir, with Love, like Lilies of the Field, was based on a novel. The plot follows American immigrant Mark Thackeray as he stays in the United Kingdom, and is based on E. R. Braithwaite’s 1959 autobiographical novel of the same name. Mark struggles to find work after graduating with a degree in engineering. To make ends meet, he takes a job as a teacher at an East End London school full of troublemakers and school dropouts. While the students initially regard him as another bully, his real attention and empathy gradually lead them to admire him. You can also read more Google violates Sonos speaker patents.

To Sir, With Love, struggled to locate a studio willing to produce the picture on American territory at first. Columbia eventually purchased the film’s rights, but the budget was a pitiful $750,000. Poitier opted to accept a dangerous pay cut by foregoing his income for the role once again. Instead, the actor is said to have agreed to only get 10% of the gross box office receipts. To Sir, thankfully, was a huge hit, grossing a whopping $22 million at the movie office when it was released in 1967. Poitier would have received an estimated $2.2 million as his compensation for To Sir, With Love, based on his 10% rate.

Sidney Poitier Net Worth

Before his death at the age of 94 in January 2022, Sidney Poitier had a net worth of $20 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. However, some net worth calculations, such as Wealthy Persons, believe Sidney Poitier’s net worth was significantly greater before his death, at roughly $25 million. Throughout his decades-long career, Poitier’s net worth has come from a range of cinema and stage ventures, including the aforementioned masterpieces Lilies of the Field, To Sir, With Love, and A Raisin in the Sun, among many more.

Read Sidney Poitier’s autobiography, The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography, from 2007. From his boyhood on the small Cat Island of the Bahamas to his appearances in films like A Raisin in the Sun and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, the New York Times best-seller looks back on the Oscar winner’s life and career. In The Measure of a Man, Politie states, “In the type of place where I grew up.” “What’s coming at you is the sound of the sea, the fragrance of the breeze, momma’s voice, your dad’s voice, and your siblings and sisters’ antics… “That’s all there is to it.” The award-winning actor also reflects on the racial barrier he faced to become one of Hollywood’s most successful actors in the Golden Age of Hollywood in the book, which covers the measures that make him a man, spouse, parent, and performer. In The Measure of a Man, Poitier says, “I have no desire to play the pontificating idiot, claiming that I’ve suddenly come up with the answers to all life’s concerns.” “On the contrary, I began this work as an investigation, a self-questioning exercise. In other words, I wanted to see how well I’d done at measuring up to the values I’d established for myself as I looked back on a long and convoluted life full of twists and turns.”

Early Life of Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier was born in Miami, Florida in the year 1927. He was the youngest of six brothers and sisters. When Poitier was 16, he moved to New York City in pursuit of a better future. Before enlisting in the Army during WWII, he worked as a dishwasher, waiter, and other odd occupations.

Personal Life of Sidney Poitier

Poitier married Juanita Hardy in 1950 and divorced in 1965. They have four daughters together. He married Joanna Shimkus in 1976 and they had two kids.

Sidney Poitier: Career and Ascension to Fame

In the year 1944, he quit the army and became a civilian. After some time, he auditioned for a number of roles and was finally cast in an American Negro Theater play. The crowd, on the other hand, rejected him. He honed his acting talents and was granted a major part in the Broadway play of Lysistrata on his second try.

Poitier began to gain notoriety, and he began to secure film roles. In 1958, he co-starred opposite Tony Curtis in the film “The Defiant Ones.” For his performance in this picture, he was nominated for an Academy Award.

In 1964, he was nominated for another Academy Award, this time for his role in “Lilies of the Field,” which he won. Over the next two decades, he appeared in a number of films and began directing comedies such as “Stir Crazy.”

Sidney Poitier: Politics Contribution

From 1997 until 2007, Poitier was the Bahamas’ ambassador to Japan for 10 years. He also served as the Bahamas’ ambassador to UNESCO for five years, from 2002 to 2007.

Investment in Real Estate

As of 2022, Poitier’s home in Beverly Hills, California is expected to be valued at $7-10 million.


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