Sidney Poitier Tributes Pour in As First Black Man to Win Best Actor Oscar Dies at 94

Sidney Poitier, the first Black man and the first Bahamian-American to win a best actor Oscar, has died at the age of 94.

His death was confirmed by the Bahamas' minister of foreign affairs, Fred Mitchell, on Friday morning. The cause of death has not been revealed.

The screen star, who won the Academy Award for best actor in 1964 for his role in Lilies of the Field, had been one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood's Golden Age.

As news of Poitier's death circulated, a host of public figures paid tribute to the star of In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

The official Twitter account of the Congressional Black Caucus posted a photo of Poitier receiving the presidential medal of freedom from former President Barack Obama in 2009.

The accompanying caption read: "We are deeply saddened by the news of trailblazer, humanitarian, and cultural icon Sidney Poitier's passing. May his memory be a blessing."

The post also included a quote attributed to Poitier, which read: "In my case, the body of work stands for itself… I think my work has been representative of me as a man."

Another Black Oscar winner, Whoopi Goldberg, evoked one of Poitier's most memorable films, To Sir, With Love, in her Twitter tribute, writing: "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 R.I.P. He showed us how to reach for the stars."

In a follow-up tweet, the Ghost star added: "My condolences to his family and to all of us as well."

Oprah Winfrey posted a photo of herself hugging Poitier on Instagram, writing: "For me, the greatest of the 'Great Trees' has fallen: Sidney Poitier.

"My honor to have loved him as a mentor. Friend. Brother. Confidant. Wisdom teacher. The utmost, highest regard and praise for his most magnificent, gracious, eloquent life.

"I treasured him. I adored him. He had an enormous soul I will forever cherish. Blessings to Joanna and his world of beautiful daughters."

Oscar winner Viola Davis wrote in a heartfelt Instagram post: "This is a big one. No words can describe how your work radically shifted my life.

"The dignity, normalcy, strength, excellence and sheer electricity you brought to your roles showed us that we, as Black folks, mattered!!!

"It was an honor for my husband and I to share lunch with you at Spagos. You told us, 'If your dreams do not scare you, they're not big enough'! I put this quote on my daughter's wall."

She concluded: "Rest well Mr. Poitier. Thank you! Thank you for leaving a legacy. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

Acclaimed director Spike Lee posted an image of Poitier as Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night, adding the caption: "The Passing Of Our Giant MR. SIDNEY POITIER Is Very Personal To Me.

"As A Black Kid Growing Up In The Sixties My Mother Would Take Me To His Films. Mommy Loved Her Some Sidney. Here Was A Proud, Dignified, Handsome And Strong Black Man That We See In Our Communities All The Time But Now Burst And Burnt Through The Silver Screens Of Hollywood.

"Am I The Only One Who Has Noticed That Every Day We Are Losing The Gamechangers Who Have Impacted Our Lives With Their Positive Force. Rest In Power 'MR. TIBBS'."

Actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry said his "heart broke" when he heard the news.

In a lengthy tribute posted on Facebook, he wrote: "Around this time last year Cicely Tyson was releasing her book and promoting it. I had no idea she would pass away shortly thereafter.

"Now, to wake up this morning to a call that Sidney Poitier has passed away... all I can tell you is that my heart broke in another place. The grace and class that this man has shown throughout his entire life, the example he set for me, not only as a black man but as a human being will never be forgotten.

"There is no man in this business who has been more of a North Star for me than Sidney Poitier. I'll never forget inviting him and Cicely to fly to South Africa with me. Selfishly, I wanted to hold them both captive for the hours long trip as I literally sat at their feet and listened to their wisdom and experiences. It was life changing.

"All I can say is thank you for your life, thank you for your example, and thank you for your incredible gift. But most of all, thank you for being willing to share YOU to make us all better."

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Westworld and Bond actor Jeffrey Wright shared a black-and-white photo of the screen star on Twitter with the caption: "Sidney Poitier. What a landmark actor. One of a kind. What a beautiful, gracious, warm, genuinely regal man. RIP, Sir. With love."

Tony winner Anika Noni Rose wrote in her tribute: "RIP Sidney Poitier. Thank you for being so kind, for every door you broke down and every slap you gave in return. #RIPSidneyPoitier #TheyCallHimMISTERTibbs."

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt also paid tribute to Poitier on social media, sharing a trio of images of the late screen star at different stages of his career.

Captioning the post, he wrote: "Sidney Poitier. An absolute legend. One of the greats."

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, also posted an image of the younger Poitier, with the tribute: "This beautiful, brilliant, talented Black man. Rest in Peace and Power #SidneyPoitier."

Author Giles Paley-Phillips remembered Poitier by sharing a quote attributed to the star, which read: "A person doesn't have to change who he is to become better."

Meanwhile, journalist Philip Lewis shared a video of the moment Poitier won his best actor Oscar. He was only the second Black performer to scoop a competitive Academy Award, after Hattie McDaniel's best supporting actress victory for Gone With the Wind.

Poitier's Oscar was all the more momentous as he was the only Black actor to win the award for a leading role for many decades.

Although a number of Black performers—including Goldberg, Louis Gossett Jr. and Cuba Gooding Jr.—received statuettes for supporting roles, the next Black man to win best actor was Denzel Washington for Training Day in 2002—the same year that Halle Berry won best actress for Monster's Ball and Poitier himself received an honorary Oscar "in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human." James Baskett, who played Uncle Remus in Disney's Song of the South, was given an honorary Oscar in 1948.

Poitier had four daughters with his first wife, Juanita Hardy, and two with his second wife, Joanna Shimkus. His daughter Gina died in 2018. He leaves behind eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Sidney Poitier dies aged 94
Sidney Poitier presents the Cecil B. DeMille Award onstage during the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton International Ballroom on January 15, 2012. The actor has died at the age of 94. Paul Drinkwater/NBC via Getty Images