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Sidney Poitier

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Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier 1968.jpg
Poitier in 1968
Bahamian Ambassador to Japan
In office
1997 – 2007[1]
Personal details
Born (1927-02-20) February 20, 1927 (age 94)
Miami, Florida, U.S.
  • Actor
  • director
  • author
  • diplomat
Years active1946–2008
Partner(s)Diahann Carroll (1959–1968)
Children6, including Sydney Tamiia Poitier
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branchSeal of the United States Department of War.png United States Army
Years of service1943–1944

Sir Sidney Poitier, KBE[2] (born February 20, 1927) is an American-born Bahamian actor, movie director, author, and diplomat. He became a star in American movies and plays which went against racial stereotypes, and made black actors more respected in mainstream roles.

From 1997 through 2007, he was the Bahamian ambassador to Japan.

Early life

Poitier was born in Miami, Florida. He grew up with his family on remote Cat Island, in the Bahamas. His mother was called Evelyn and his father was called Reginald James Poitier.[3] They had a farm.[4] Poitier's birth was premature and people did not expect him to survive, but his parents stayed three months in Miami until he became well.[5] Since he was born in Miami, Poitier automatically gained U.S. citizenship.[5]

When he was 15, Poitier's parents sent him off Miami to live with his older brother. At 17, he moved to New York City and got several menial jobs. During this time, he was arrested for vagrancy (being homeless) after having to leave his home for not paying rent. He decided to join the United States Army. He worked as a dishwasher until he got a job with the American Negro Theater.

Acting career

Poitier was tone deaf, and could not sing or dance. This is what black actors did at the time, so audiences did not like him.[6] He worked very hard to improve his acting skills, and to get rid of his Bahamian accent. He eventually got a leading role in the Broadway play called Lysistrata and he got excellent reviews. At the end of 1949, he got a job working for Darryl F. Zanuck in the movie No Way Out (1950). He played a doctor treating a white bigot. After this job, he soon got more movie roles. The acting jobs he got were better and more interesting than the roles most black actors played at the time.

In 1955, he played a member of an badly behaved high school class in Blackboard Jungle. This was an important role in Poitier's career.

Poitier was the first black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor (for Lilies of the Field in 1963).[7]

He acted in the first production of A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway in 1959, and later starred in the movie version released in 1961. He was also 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 actor at the box office, with three successful movies, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner; To Sir, with Love and In the Heat of the Night. The last movie featured his most successful character, Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania detective.

However, Poitier began to be criticized for typecasting himself, playing black characters who had only good personalities, like his character in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. Poitier agreed with this but although he wanted more different roles, but also wanted to set a good example with his characters and go against the negative stereotypes that had come before. He was the only major black actor in the American movie industry at the time.

Directing career

Poitier has directed several movies, the most successful being the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder comedy Stir Crazy. The first movie he directed was the western Buck and the Preacher. He was also the star, with Harry Belafonte. Other movies he has directed are Uptown Saturday Night, Let's Do It Again, A Piece of the Action, and Ghost Dad.

Personal life

Poitier, Mary Robinson, and Desmond Tutu about to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2009

Poitier was first married to Juanita Hardy from April 29, 1950 until 1965. He has been married to Joanna Shimkus, a Canadian-born actress, since January 23, 1976. He has four daughters by his first marriage and two by his second.

He has written three autobiographical books, This Life (1980), The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography (2000) and Life Beyond Measure - letters to my Great-Granddaughter (2008).

Later life

In April 1997, Poitier was became ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan. He is also the ambassador of the Bahamas to UNESCO. From 1998 to 2003, he was a Member of the Board of Directors of The Walt Disney Company.[8]

In 2001, Poitier received an Academy Honorary Award for his overall contribution to American cinema. In August 2009, he received the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.


  1. Sidney Poitier Biography Archived July 24, 2015, at the Wayback Machine AETN UK. The Biography Channel. 2005–11; retrieved July 23, 2015.
  2. Because Poitier is a citizen of The Bahamas, a Commonwealth realm, this is a substantive (as opposed to honorary) knighthood, which entitles him to the style "Sir". However, Poitier employs the title only in connection with his official ambassadorial duties.
  3. Sidney Poitier Biography (1927-)
  4. Tavis Smiley interviews Sidney Poitier
  5. 5.0 5.1 Adam Goudsouzian, Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (2004), p.8.
  6. Goudsouzian; Sidney Poitier; pp. 69, 133
  7. On This Day: 1964: Poitier breaks new ground with Oscar win at BBC
  8. Actor Takes Center Stage as Disney Trial Grinds On

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