Sidney Poitier, an Oscar winning icon of the cinema whose every early screen appearance was a dignified, fiery and eloquent appeal for equal rights and civil rights, and whose later years saw him as an elder statesman, an eminence grise of the screen, has died at the ripe old age of 94.
The first Black man to win an Oscar was also one of the greatest actors of his generation, something he proved over and over again during his years as a matinee idol.
“The Defiant Ones,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Lilies of the Field,” “Blackboard Jungle,” “The Bedford Incident,” stage classic adaptations such as “Porgy and Bess,” “”A Raisin in the Sun,” comedies such as “Uptown Saturday Night” and “Let’s Do It Again,” this is the screen canon of a giant of his profession.
His later acting years, with thrillers like “Little Nikita” and all-star romps like “Sneakers,” were like a decade long victory lap.
He will be remembered for 25 good to great films, and a life devoted to the cause of civil rights in his adoptive country, and around the world.
I met him a few times over the years, interviewing him for “Sneakers,” chatting up and his lifelong pal and fellow “islander” Harry Belafonte at the National Black Theater Festival in Winston Salem. Anybody warning you about not meeting your idols could shut up about Poitier. Old school, old Hollywood elegance incarnate, willing to share a BIG hearty laugh with — or about Belafonte — wholly aware of his “role model” status and never ever tarnishing it.
I distinctly remember the dirty look he gave me when I started in on a question quoting him baiting Belafonte over this or that, and both of them bursting into moist eyed laughter when they figured the white boy was in on their shared teasing.
Sidney Poitier was truly one of a kind.