Sidney Poitier was born on February 20, 1927, in Miami, Florida. He arrived two and a half months prematurely while his Bahamian parents were on vacation in Miami. As soon as he was strong enough, Poitier left the United States with his parents for the Bahamas. There Poitier spent his early years on his father’s tomato farm on Cat Island.
Poitier went to live with a brother when he was in his mid-teens. After a delinquency-filled youth and a short stint in the U.S. Army, Poitier moved to New York to pursue an acting career.
In New York City, he first worked menial jobs, such as dishwashing, to support himself before he found his life’s passion.
In 1946, Poitier appeared in a Broadway production of Lysistratato great acclaim. For years, Poitier worked as a stage actor. He made his Hollywood debut in 1950 in No Way Out.
Poitier had a career breakthrough with Blackboard Jungle (1955). He scored his first Academy Award nomination for the 1958 crime drama The Defiant Ones with Tony Curtis.
The following year, Poitier lit up the screen as a leading man in the musical Porgy and Bess, co-starring with Dorothy Dandridge. In 1964, Poitier won an Academy Award (best actor) for his performance in Lilies of the Field (1963) marking the first Oscar wins by an African-American actor.
Poitier has directed a number of popular movies, such as A Piece of the Action, Uptown Saturday Night, Let’s Do It Again, (with friend Bill Cosby), Stir Crazy (starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder) and Ghost Dad (also with Cosby).
In 2002, thirty-eight years after receiving the Best Actor Award, Poitier was chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive an Honorary Award, designated “To Sidney Poitier in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being.
He acted in the first production of A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway in 1959, and later starred in the film version released in 1961. He also gave memorable performances in The Bedford Incident (1965), and A Patch of Blue (1965) co-starring Elizabeth Hartman and Shelley Winters.
In 1967, he was the most successful draw at the box office, the commercial peak of his career, with three popular films, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; To Sir, with Love and In the Heat of the Night.
Poitier directed several films, the most successful being the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder comedy Stir Crazy which for years was the highest grossing film directed by a person of African descent.
His feature film directorial debut was the western Buck and the Preacher in which Poitier also starred, alongside Harry Belafonte. Poitier replaced original director Joseph Sergeant. Along with his name uttered in the lyrics, a photograph of Poitier is held by Busta Rhymes in the 1998 rap video “Gimme Some More”.
Poitier has received numerous honours during his legendary career. In 2009, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Poitier was also feted by the Film Society of Lincoln Centre in 2011, earning the organization’s Chaplin Lifetime Achievement Award.