Biden and Harris join tribute to ‘Once-in-a-Generation’ actor Sidney Poitier

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US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have applauded Sidney Poitier for changing the world “on and off the screen” following his death at the age of 94.

Leaders paid tribute to Poitier’s talent as an actor as well as his work to advance the conversation on race and civil rights.

Bahamian-American actor best known for films including In the Heat of the Night, Blackboard Jungle and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner – and was the first black person to win a Best Actor Oscar.

In a statement shared by the White House, President Biden mourned the loss of the “once in a generation” actor who helped “open the hearts of millions.”

“Sydney was one of the finest actors in our history. His iconic performances… mirrored the racial attitudes of America in the 1950s and 1960s,” he said.

“With unmatched grandeur and poise – his singular warmth, depth and stature on-screen – Sydney has helped open the hearts of millions and changed the way America looked.

“He ignited a path for our nation to follow, and a legacy that touches every part of our society today.”

Vice President Harris said: “Sydney Poitier changed our world both on and off the screen.

“As an Oscar-winning actor and ambassador, he advances our dialogue on race and civil rights at a time when we need it most.”

Poet Amanda Gorman, who rose to fame after reading at the opening ceremony of Biden and Harris in January 2021, said she “given her voice” to Poitier.

“#SidneyPoitier was a pioneer for artists of color everywhere,” wrote the 23-year-old.

“At the age of 9 I read that he imitated broadcasters because he was ridiculed for his accent. That’s what I did for the next 10 years to overcome my own speech impediment.

“I owe my voice to her. Never doubt that representation matters.”

Former US President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president, shared a photo of himself and his wife Michelle with Poitier after the honored actor was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

Obama wrote: “Through her phenomenal roles and prodigious talent, Sidney Poitier embodies dignity and grace, revealing the power of films to bring us together.

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