Trailblazing actor Sidney Poitier dies at 94, Latest World News - The New Paper

Trailblazing actor Sidney Poitier dies at 94

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Sidney Poitier, who broke through racial barriers as the first black winner of the Best Actor Oscar for his role in Lilies Of The Field and inspired a generation during the civil rights movement, has died at age 94, an official from the Bahamas' Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday.

Mr Eugene Torchon-Newry, the ministry's acting director-general, confirmed the actor's death.

Poitier created a distinguished film legacy in a single year with three 1967 films at a time when segregation prevailed in much of the United States.

In Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, he played a black man with a white fiancee, and In The Heat Of The Night, he was a black police officer confronting racism during a murder investigation. He also played a teacher in a tough London school that year in To Sir, With Love.

Poitier had won his Best Actor Oscar for Lilies Of The Field in 1963, playing a handyman who helps German nuns build a chapel in the desert.

Five years earlier, he had been the first black man nominated for a lead actor Oscar for his role in The Defiant Ones.

Poitier was born in Miami on Feb 20, 1927, and raised on a tomato farm in the Bahamas.

He had just one year of formal schooling. He struggled against poverty, illiteracy and prejudice to become one of the first black actors to be known and accepted in major roles by mainstream audiences.

Poitier picked his roles with care, burying the old Hollywood idea that black actors could appear only in demeaning contexts as shoeshine boys, train conductors and maids.

"I love you, I respect you, I imitate you," Denzel Washington, another Oscar winner, once told Poitier at a ceremony.

In 1992, Poitier was given the Life Achievement Award by the American Film Institute, the most prestigious honour after the Oscar. "I must also pay thanks to an elderly Jewish waiter who took time to help a young black dishwasher learn to read," he told the audience. "I cannot tell you his name. I never knew it. But I read pretty good now."

He was knighted by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in 1974 and served as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan and to Unesco.

In 2009, he was awarded the highest US civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Watch The Straits Times video here: