As waves of tributes continued to flow across social and legacy media honoring legendary actor Sidney Poitier, who broke color barriers when he became the first Black performer to win an Oscar for a leading role and paved the way for generations of Black actors who followed, his family added their personal remembrance.
“There are no words to convey the deep sense of loss and sadness we are feeling right now,” Poitier’s family said in a statement. “We are so grateful he was able to spend his last day surrounded by his family and friends. To us, Sidney Poitier was not only a brilliant actor, activist and a man of incredible grace and moral fortitude, he was also a devoted and loving husband, a supportive and adoring father and a man who always put family first.”
Poitier, 94, died Jan. 6, according to the Bahamian Minister of Foreign Affairs. No information was released on the cause of death, but Poitier had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993.
Born in Miami but raised in the Bahamas, Poitier won the best actor Academy Award for his work in “Lilies of the Field” in 1963, and went on to become a major box office draw, a notion that was unheard of for a Black performer in the 1960s.
He cemented his legendary status with a trio of iconic 1967 roles: as Mark Thackeray in “To Sir With Love,” Detective Virgil Tibbs in “In the Heat of the Night” and as John Prentice — fiancé to a White woman — in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
Poitier’s films and roles directly attacked racial divides, and his emergence as a Hollywood star served as a beacon for Black performers that they could do more than portray servants, maids or musicians on screen.
As a director, he made history as the first Black to helm a film that earned $100 million dollars at the box office with the success of the 1980 film “Stir Crazy”’ starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder.
Poitier directed eight other films including “Buck and the Preacher,” “Uptown Saturday Night” and “A Piece of the Action.”
Poitier was also a civil rights activist who was among the scores of celebrities who participated in the 1963 March on Washington. In 2009, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
“Through his groundbreaking roles and singular talent, Sidney Poitier epitomized dignity and grace, revealing the power of movies to bring us closer together,” Obama said in a statement. “He also opened doors for a generation of actors. Michelle and I send our love to his family and legion of fans.”
Whoopi Goldberg added, “If you wanted the sky I would write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand feet high. To Sir, with Love. Sir Sidney Poitier RIP. He showed us how to reach for the stars.”
Poitier is survived by his wife of 45 years, Joanna, five daughters, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A sixth daughter, Gina, died in 2018.