Sidney Poitier is known the world over for his sensitive and powerful portrayals in such socially charged films as Cry, the Beloved Country (1951), Something of Value (1957), The Defiant Ones (1958), Pressure Point (1962), A Patch of Blue (1965), To Sir with Love (1967), IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), Lilies of the Field (1963) and many others.
He has been walking tall among Hollywood’s most respected and honored stars for more than six decades. He made his motion picture debut in Joseph Mankiewicz’s No Way Out, garnered critical acclaim and national recognition in Blackboard Jungle (1955), received his first Academy Award nomination for The Defiant Ones in 1959 and won the coveted Best Actor Oscar in 1964 for his performance in Lilies of the Field.
Born in Miami, Florida, he grew up on Cat Island, in the Bahamas, where his father owned and worked a tomato farm. Educated at secondary schools in Nassau, Bahamas, Poitier returned to the States at 15 finding his way to New York. Two years later, he enlisted in the Army where he served with the 126-7th Medical Detachment as a physiotherapist.
After World War II, Poitier returned to New York where he worked at the variety of jobs available to aspiring actors. He joined the American Negro Theatre and worked backstage in exchange for acting lessons. Lysistrata, his first professional piece, was quickly followed by Freight and Anna Lucasta before embodying the Broadway role of Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun. It was the Lysistrata exposure that led to his screen test for No Way Out. His other Broadway credits include a directorial assignment for Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights.
His roles have run the gamut from escaped convict in The Defiant Ones to U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, in Separate but Equal (1991). In the early 70s, starting with his Buck and the Preacher (1972) directorial film debut (in which he co-starred with Harry Belafonte), Poitier was able to combine his acting and directing talents. Other directorial credits include A Warm December (1973), Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Stir Crazy (1980), Hanky Panky (1982), Fast Forward (1985), Let’s Do It Again (1975), A Piece of the Action (1977) and Ghost Dad (1990).
In 1969, Poitier joined forces with Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand, Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman to form ‘First Artists Productions, Ltd.’
Poitier bears a highly regarded name in the entertainment business. In addition to his obvious personal success, he has been a leading figure among black achievers. As a film director he created employment for hundreds of minority actors, and made sure that at least 25 percent of the people working behind cameras were likewise minority representatives.
From 1997 to 2007, Poitier held a dual diplomatic appointment serving as the Ambassador to Japan and the Ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), both posts representing the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. He is the recipient of four Honorary Doctorate Degrees; and was honored at the 59th Cannes Film Festival when the country of France designated him a Commander of Arts and Letters.
During his career—which spans more than 60 years—this Academy Award-winning actor, director, best-selling author, husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather has received many honors and awards; the most meaningful and precious being the Knighthood awarded to him by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, II in 1968, and most recently The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America’s highest civilian honor, awarded to him by President Barack Obama.
In 2002, Poitier was presented with a second Oscar for his extraordinary performances and unique presence on the screen and for representing the industry with dignity, style and intelligence.
Other notable citations accumulated during his years as a principal player in American motion pictures are the Giorgi Cini Cultural Foundation Award Because of Human Values—Achieving the Summit in the Realm of Both Art and Civilization as well as the Berlin and Venice Film Festival Awards for his role in The Defiant Ones.
He has received the BAFTA Fellowship and BAFTA Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, an American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award; the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award; the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award; six NAACP Image Awards including the Spingarn Award (the highest honor given by the NAACP); The Chaplin Award; two Golden Bear Awards from the Berlin Film Festival; two Emmy Nominations and a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for his best-selling spiritual autobiography The Measure of a Man.
Poitier currently resides in Beverly Hills, California with his wife of more than 45 years, Joanna Shimkus Poitier, and remains one of the most respected and beloved figures in American Cinema of the Twentieth century.