(CNN) — Clint Watson, the press secretary to the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, confirmed to CNN that Oscar-winning actor and civil rights activist Sidney Poitier has died at the age of 94.
Watson, citing immediate family members in the Bahamas, said Poitier died late Thursday.
Watson said Prime Minister Philip Davis will hold a news conference later on Friday.
The gentle demeanor and principled characters he portrayed made Poitier Hollywood the first black star. In fact, he was the first black man to win an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1964, for his role in it field lilies, the second to win an Oscar. Hattie McDaniel was the first to win Best Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind.
Five years earlier, in 1959, he had also established himself as the first black American to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for a movie. the challenge.
He overcame Poitier’s poor Bahamian backdrop and heavy island accent to rise to the top of his career, at a time when prominent roles for black actors were rare.
Many of his most famous films explored racial tensions as Americans grappled with the social changes brought about by the civil rights movement. In 1967 alone, he appeared as a Philadelphia detective battling bigotry in the small Mississippi town of in the heat of the night And also as a doctor he wins over the skeptical parents of his white fiancée in Guess who’s coming to dinner.
Poitier’s films struggled for distribution in the South, and his choice of roles was limited to what the white-led studios would produce. Racial taboos, for example, kept him out of most romantic parts. But their gracious roles helped audiences in the 1950s and 1960s visualize blacks not only as servants, but also as doctors, teachers, and investigators.
At the same time, as the only black lead in 1960s Hollywood, he came under intense scrutiny. Often he was hailed as a noble symbol of his race and was criticized by some blacks who said he betrayed them by pleasing whites.
Poitier told Oprah Winfrey in 2000, “It was a huge responsibility. I accepted it, and lived in a way that showed how I respected that responsibility. I had to do it. For others to come after me, there were certain things he had to do.”
In 2001, he won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Album for “The Measure Of A Man”. A year later he was awarded an Honorary Academy Award “in recognition of his outstanding achievements as an artist and as a human being”.
Then in 2009, then-President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Sidney Poitier’s life outside the cinema
He grew up on Cat Island in the Bahamas. The family later moved to Nassau, but his parents sent him to live with relatives in Miami at the age of 14. After a confrontation with the Ku Klux Klan, he left Miami at the age of 16 and moved to New York.
After lying about his age, he joined the military at the age of 16. He pretended to be insane to be discharged from the hospital nine months later, later admitting to deception in his book The Man’s Scale: A Spiritual Autobiography.
A heavy Bahamian accent and limited ability to read cost him an acting job at the American Negro Theater in Harlem. He beat his accent by imitating the announcers and improved his reading skills by studying newspapers.
He had dual citizenship in the United States and the Bahamas.
In fact, Poitier was the ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan between 1997 and 2007.