Sidney Poitier Biography

(Director and the First African-American to Win an Academy Award for Best Actor)

Birthday: February 20, 1927 (Pisces)

Born In: Miami, Florida, United States

Sir Sidney Poitier was an actor, director, and diplomat, best known for being the first black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. He won this award for his portrayal of Homer Smith, an African-American worker in the film, Lilies of the Field. This was a very significant achievement in the 1960s when racism was rampant in the United States. Born to poor Bahamian farmer parents, he received little formal education. As a teenager, he was turning towards street crime when his father sent him to the United States to start life anew. He received a huge cultural shock in New York where he witnessed widespread racism and chasm between the classes. After struggling to make ends meet as a dishwasher, he joined the American Negro Theater. Through his determination and hard work he soon became a much sought-after theatre artist and started receiving film offers. In his debut film, No Way Out, he played a doctor who treats a white bigot. This role got him noticed and he received several offers. After establishing himself as a successful actor, he branched into direction as well. He was named one of the Greatest Male Stars of All Time by the American Film Institute in 1999.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Sidney L. Poitier

Died At Age: 94


Spouse/Ex-: Joanna Shimkus (m. 1976), Juanita Hardy (m. 1950–1965)

father: Reginald James Poitier

mother: Evelyn

siblings: Cyril Poitier

children: Anika Poitier, Beverly Poitier-Henderson, Gina Poitier, Pamela Poitier, Sherri Poitier, Sydney Tamiia Poitier

Born Country: United States

Actors Directors

Height: 6'2" (188 cm), 6'2" Males

Died on: January 6, 2022

Ancestry: Haitian American, Bahamian American

U.S. State: Florida

City: Miami, Florida

  • 1

    What was Sidney Poitier's first major film role?

    Sidney Poitier's first major film role was in the movie "No Way Out" in 1950.
  • 2

    Did Sidney Poitier face any challenges as a black actor in Hollywood?

    Yes, Sidney Poitier faced discrimination and racial barriers as a black actor in Hollywood during the 1950s and 1960s.
  • 3

    How did Sidney Poitier contribute to the civil rights movement?

    Sidney Poitier contributed to the civil rights movement by portraying strong, positive black characters on screen, breaking stereotypes and inspiring change.
  • 4

    What impact did Sidney Poitier have on the film industry?

    Sidney Poitier broke barriers for black actors in Hollywood and paved the way for more diversity in the film industry.
  • 5

    How did Sidney Poitier's work influence future generations of actors?

    Sidney Poitier's work inspired future generations of actors, particularly black actors, to pursue their dreams and strive for representation in the entertainment industry.
Childhood & Early Life

He was born prematurely to Bahamian parents, who were vacationing in Miami, on February 20, 1927. His parents stayed in Miami for three months to nurse the weak infant back to health. His parents, Reginald James Poitier and Evelyn were farmers.

He grew up in poverty and was showing signs of becoming delinquent. Concerned, his father sent him to live with his brother in New York. He initially washed dishes to make ends meet. He never received any formal education and was taught to read by a Jewish waiter who coached him after working hours.

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He joined the American Negro Theater but struggled initially due to his inability to sing and also due to his strong Bahamian accent. He trained hard for the next several months to overcome his weaknesses.

He was given a leading role in the Broadway production, Lysistrata. His performance was highly appreciated and he went on to become a popular stage actor. He soon started receiving offers for films.

In 1950 he acted in the film No Way Out, in which he portrayed a doctor, Dr. Luther Brooks, who tends to a white racist patient who dies in the midst of a medical procedure. The role got him rave reviews.

After playing supporting roles in several other films during the early 1950s, he got his breakthrough role in the 1955 social commentary Blackboard Jungle, a film based on a novel of the same name by Evan Hunter. Poitier played a student who engages in anti-social behavior.

In 1958, he played Noah Cullen, an escaped prisoner, in the movie The Defiant Ones. The plot revolves around two escaped prisoners - one black and one white - who are shackled together and must cooperate in order to survive. Poitier received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

He starred along with Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, and Roy Glenn in the 1961 drama film A Raisin in the Sun, which was based on the play of the same name by Lorraine Hansberry.

The year 1963, was a very significant one for Sidney Poitier, as he played Homer Smith in the film Lilies of the Field, which was produced and directed by Ralph Nelson. His performance was critically appreciated and he won several awards and accolades.

Sidney Poitier next appeared in the super hit film A Patch of Blue in 1965, which was about the relationship between a black man and a blind white girl, and the challenges they face when they fall in love in a racially segregated America.

In 1967, Sidney appeared in the drama mystery film In the Heat of the Night. He played the police officer Virgil Tibbs who gets involved in a murder investigation in a racist small town. The movie was followed by two sequels, They call me MISTER Tibbs! in 1970, and The Organization, in 1971. He reprised the role in both films.

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Sidney Poitier made his directorial debut in 1972 in the western film Buck and the Preacher in which he also starred as a trail guide. After this movie, he went on to direct several other successful movies, including the comedy Stir Crazy in 1980.

He was appointed the ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan in April 1997; he held the position till 2007. From 2002-2007, he also served as the ambassador of the Bahamas to UNESCO.

His final big-screen appearance was in the 2022 American documentary film ‘Sidney’ which showcased the life of the legendary star.

Major Works

He is best remembered for his Academy Award-winning performance in Lilies of the Field in which he played an itinerant worker who helps a group of nuns build a new chapel. He received several awards for this highly appreciated role.

Awards & Achievements

He won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for the film Lilies of the Field, in 1963.

He was presented with an Academy Honorary Award in 2002 "for his extraordinary performances and unique presence on the screen and for representing the industry with dignity, style and intelligence".

Personal Life & Legacy

His first marriage was to Juanita Hardy from 1950 to 1965. The couple had four daughters (Beverly, Pamela, Sherri, and Gina).

He married actress Joanna Shimkus in 1976 with whom he had two daughters (Anika and Sydney Tamiia).

In 2002, he got married to multi-millionaire Kiki Tholstrup. 

Sidney Poitier died on January 6, 2022, at his home in Los Angeles, California. He was 94.

Facts About Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier was the first African American actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, paving the way for greater diversity and representation in Hollywood.
Poitier was also a talented director, with his film "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" being a groundbreaking exploration of interracial relationships in the 1960s.
Poitier has been a passionate advocate for civil rights and equality, using his platform to speak out against racism and discrimination.
In addition to his acting and directing career, Poitier is also a successful author, with several bestselling books to his name.

Sidney Poitier Movies

1. In the Heat of the Night (1967)

  (Drama, Crime, Thriller, Mystery)

2. A Patch of Blue (1965)

  (Drama, Romance)

3. A Raisin in the Sun (1961)


4. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)

  (Comedy, Drama)

5. To Sir, with Love (1967)


6. Lilies of the Field (1963)


7. The Defiant Ones (1958)

  (Crime, Drama)

8. Blackboard Jungle (1955)

  (Crime, Drama)

9. The Bedford Incident (1965)

  (Thriller, Drama)

10. No Way Out (1950)

  (Crime, Film-Noir, Thriller, Drama)


Academy Awards(Oscars)
1964 Best Actor in a Leading Role Lilies of the Field (1963)
Golden Globe Awards
1969 World Film Favorite - Male Winner
1964 Best Actor - Drama Lilies of the Field (1963)
BAFTA Awards
1959 Best Foreign Actor The Defiant Ones (1958)
Grammy Awards
2001 Best Spoken Word Album Winner

See the events in life of Sidney Poitier in Chronological Order

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