SIDNEY POITIER: “I was raised by my parents to be an instrument for change, for good, for respect, for the irreplaceable qualities of a human being.”
Sidney Poitier, who broke through racial barriers as the first Black winner of the best actor Oscar, and who inspired a generation during the civil rights movement, has died, the Bahamian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Friday.
Raised in the Bahamas, Poitier moved to New York at age 16 and worked odd jobs while he pursued acting.
He won his history-making Oscar for "Lilies of the Field" in 1963, a comedy drama in which he played an itinerant handyman whose outlook on life changes after he helps nuns build a chapel.
Poitier cemented his film legacy in a single year, when, in 1967 – with much of the U.S. still segregated – he starred in three films that dealt head-on with racial issues.
In "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" he played one half of an interracial couple.
As Virgil Tibbs in "In the Heat of the Night" he played a Black police officer confronting racism during a murder investigation.
And in "To Sir, With Love " he played a teacher of unruly, white, working-class kids in London.
Among his many accolades – including a second, honorary Oscar in 2002 – was the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-president Barack Obama, and the Commander in the Order of the Arts and Letters, bestowed on him during the Cannes Film Festival in 2006, where he spoke of his rise in Hollywood.
"I got there on my terms. My terms meant that I would get there if I was accepted as I perceived myself. I was an African-American actor. That was who I was."
In all, he acted in more than 50 films and directed nine.
Sidney Poitier was 94.