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.
They 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.
Sidney Poitier changed our world both on and off screen. As an Oscar-winning actor and ambassador, he has led our dialogue on race and civil rights at a time when we need it most. My thoughts are with his wife Joanna and their daughters.
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) 8 January 2022
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.
#SidneyPoitier There was a pioneer for artists of color everywhere. At 9 o’clock I read that he mimicked the 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 him. Never doubt that representation matters. pic.twitter.com/2Z3OL6HMAX
— Amanda Gorman (@TheAmandaGorman) 7 January 2022
“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.
Through her phenomenal roles and prodigious talent, Sidney Poitier embodies dignity and grace, revealing the power of films to bring us together. He also opened doors to a generation of actors. Michelle and I send our love to his family and fans. pic.twitter.com/zkYKFSxfKA
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) 7 January 2022
Obama wrote: “Through her phenomenal roles and prodigious talent, Sidney Poitier embodies dignity and grace, revealing the power of films to bring us together.
“He also opened doors for a generation of actors.
“Michelle and I send our love to his family and fans.”
US talk show host Oprah Winfrey posted a photo of the pair happily embracing and added an emotional message, saying: “For me, the biggest fall of ‘Great Trees’ has come: Sidney Poitier.
“It is my honor to love him as a mentor. Friend. Brother. Confidant. Wisdom teacher.
“The utmost, highest regard and admiration for his most splendid, gracious, eloquent life.
“I treasured her. I adored her. She had a huge soul that I will always cherish. Bless the world to Joanna and her beautiful daughters.”
British singer Lulu, who sang the title song for the film To Sir, with Love starring Poitier, said the actor had set an example and “empowered and educated” many people.
The singer, who also appeared in the film with Poitier, said in a statement: “Sydney you were my friend my teacher, my inspiration …
“Sir rise above the ground and lead by example, this is how you lived your life, you empowered and educated us so that we can follow your lead.”
Singing legends Diana Ross and Nancy Sinatra also paid tribute to Poitier.
Sharing a black and white photo of himself and the actor, Ross said: “A wonderful, great man, will always be missed.”
Sinatra wrote: “Godspeed, dear Sydney, and thank you for your courage,” with a quote from Leo Rosten, adding that Poitier “definitely made a difference”.
News of Poitier’s death was followed by a press conference by the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Philip Davis, during which he reflected on the actor’s legacy.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy – but to have substance, to be productive, to be useful, it does matter that you lived at all.” ~ Leo Rosten
Godspeed: Dear Sydney, and thank you for your courage. https://t.co/lY5MILUznH
— Nancy Sinatra (@NancySinatra) 7 January 2022
He said: “Our whole Bahamas mourns. But when we mourn, we still celebrate the life of a great Bahamian.
“A cultural icon, an actor and film director, civil and human rights activist and a diplomat.
“We admire the man not only because of his great achievements, but also because of who he was.
“His strength of character, his desire to stand out and be counted and the way he plotted and navigated his life’s journey.
“The boy who moved from a tomato farm to the United States to become a waiter, a young man who not only taught himself to read and write, but made words and the expression of thoughts and feelings central to his career.”
Known for his work during the 50s and 60s, Poitier helped pave the way for generations of African-American actors.
Poitier grew up in the Bahamas, which was then a British colony, and returned to America at the age of 15 and worked in low-paying jobs until he later joined the American Negro Theatre, which was founded in Harlem. Was set up as a community project. in 1940.
His first major role came in 1946 in Aristotle’s comedy Lysistrata, but by 1949 he had moved away from theater and into film.
In 1963, he was awarded an Oscar for Lily of the Field, in which he played a Baptist handyman who builds a chapel for a group of Roman Catholic nuns, and became the first black winner of the Best Actor trophy .
The Academy said on Twitter after his death: “Poitier was a barrier breaker and an enduring inspiration who advances American racial dialogue through his art. Poitier’s influence, both on and off screen, has been or will be the influence of few film stars.” “
The actor was awarded an honorary knighthood through his Bahamian heritage in 1974 and received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1995.