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Sidney Poitier, the first black man to win an Oscar, has died aged 94


Sidney Poitier, the influential actor who starred in the likes of In the Heat of the Night, Lilies of the Field and The Defiant Ones has passed away at the age of 94.

An actor and activist, Sidney Poitier is best known for becoming the very first black man to be awarded an Oscar for Best Actor, given the statuette at the 1964 Academy Awards for his performance in the Ralph Nelson film, Lilies of the Field. In his impressive career spanning 54 years, Poitier was nominated for a further Oscar for his performance in The Defiant Ones, as well as receiving 10 Golden Globe nominations. 

Growing up in the Bahamas before moving to Florida as a teenager, Poitier joined a local theatre upon his arrival in the U.S where he would earn his very first film role as a high school student in the teen drama, Blackboard Jungle in 1955. His impressive performance in the coming-of-age film would open the door for the actor to take advantage of future roles in the industry throughout the mid-20th century. 

Whilst Lillies of the Field and The Defiant Ones earned the actor critical plaudits, it was his role in In the Heat of the Night by director Norman Jewison that will long be remembered, with the actor starring in the powerful film that follows a black Philadelphia police detective who is mistakenly suspected of a local murder. Winning five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Rod Steiger, the film is recognised as a pivotal Hollywood classic.  

Becoming the second black man to win the Best Actor award at the Oscars in 2001, Denzel Washington paid tribute to Sidney Poitier in his speech, stating, “I’ll always be chasing you, Sidney. I’ll always be following in your footsteps. There’s nothing I would rather do, sir”.

The actor, activist and director will be sorely missed.