Sidney Poitier, trailblazing Hollywood icon who broke barriers for Black actors, dies at 94

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Sidney-Poitier
Actor Sidney Poitier poses for a portrait in Beverly Hills, Calif. on June 2, 2008. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

Sidney Poitier dies at 94

Sidney Poitier, the renowned Hollywood actor, director and activist who commanded the screen, reshaped the culture and paved the way for countless other Black actors with stirring performances in classics such as “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” has died, a source close to the family told NBC News on Friday.

He was 94. The actor’s cause of death was not immediately given.

“Sir Sidney’s light will continue to shine brightly for generations to come,” said Philip Davis, the prime minister of the Bahamas, where Poitier grew up.

In a groundbreaking film career that spanned decades, Poitier established himself as one of the finest performers in America. He made history as the first Black man to win an Academy Award for best actor and, at the height of his fame, he became a major box-office draw.

Poitier, who rejected film roles based on offensive racial stereotypes, earned acclaim for portraying dignified, keenly intelligent men in 1960s landmarks such as “Lilies of the Field,” “A Patch of Blue,” “To Sir, With Love,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

He said he felt a responsibility to represent Black excellence at a time when the vast majority of movie stars were white and many Black performers were relegated to subservient or buffoonish roles. He came to be seen as an elder statesmen in the film industry, celebrated for his social conscience and admired for his regal bearing.

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