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Sidney Poitier, Trailblazing Icon Who Broke Barriers for Black Actors, Dies at 94

Sidney Poitier, the renowned Hollywood actor, director and activist who commanded the screen, reshaped the culture and paved the way for countless other Black actors with stirring performances in classics such as “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” has died, a source close to the family told NBC News on Friday.

He was 94. The actor’s cause of death was not immediately given.

In a groundbreaking film career that spanned decades, Poitier established himself as one of the finest performers in America. He made history as the first Black man to win an Academy Award for best actor and, at the height of his fame, he became a major box-office draw.

Poitier, who rejected film roles based on offensive racial stereotypes, earned acclaim for portraying dignified, keenly intelligent men in 1960s landmarks such as “Lilies of the Field,” “A Patch of Blue,” “To Sir, With Love,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

He said he felt a responsibility to represent Black excellence at a time when the vast majority of movie stars were white and many Black performers were relegated to subservient or buffoonish roles. He came to be seen as an elder statesmen in the film industry, celebrated for his social conscience and admired for his regal bearing.

“I felt very much as if I were representing 15, 18 million people with every move I made,” Poitier once wrote about the experience of being the only Black person on a movie set.

He won the best actor Oscar in 1964 for his depiction of an ex-serviceman who helps East German nuns build a chapel in “Lilies of the Field.” The first Black man to win that honor, he remained the only one until Denzel Washington in 2002 — the same year Poitier received an honorary Oscar “in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human.”

In the course of his public life, Poitier was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1995, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, two Golden Globe awards (including a lifetime achievement honor in 1982), and a Grammy for narrating his autobiography, “The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography,” published in 2000.

Article source: https://www.nbcnews.com/

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