Sir Sidney Poitier, First Black Man to Win Oscar for Best Actor, Dead at 94

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Sir Sidney Poitier, the first Black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, has died at age 94.

Bahamas Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell confirmed the actor’s passing, saying, “We’ve lost a great a Bahamian and I’ve lost a personal friend.” (A native of Cat Island in the Bahamas, Poitier at one time served as a Bahamian ambassador to Japan and UNESCO.)

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A cause and exact date of death has not yet been reported.

Poitier’s career began in the early 1950s, with roles in films such as No Way Out, Cry the Beloved Country and Blackboard Jungle. Along the way, he also folded in the occasional TV gig, including appearances on The Philco Television Playhouse.

Following his first Oscar-nominated role (in The Defiant Ones), he would star in such films as Porgy and Bess, A Raisin in the Sun, Lilies of the Field (for which he won his landmark Oscar), To Sir With Love, In the Heat of the Night (where he starred opposite Rod Steiger) and its sequel, They Call Me Mister Tibbs!, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Poitier’s most recent acting work came in the TV-movies To Sir, With Love II (which aired on CBS in 1996), a title role in Showtime’s Mandela and de Klerk (for which he earned his second Primetime Emmy Award nomination in 1997), 1999’s The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn and 2001’s The Last Brickmaker in America.

In 2009, Poitier was awarded by President Obama the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor. He also was bestowed with an Honorary Academy Award in 2002, for his extraordinary performances and unique presence on the screen and for representing the industry with dignity, style and intelligence.

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