Feb. 20th, 1927
Miami, Florida, USA
6' 2 1/2"
Sidney Poitier's Main TV Roles
Main Movie Roles
Guest TV Roles[none found]
A native of Cat Island, The Bahamas, (though born in Miami during a mainland visit by his parents), Poitier grew up in poverty as the son of a dirt farmer. He had little formal education and at the age of 15 was sent to Miami to live with his brother, in order to forestall a growing tendency toward delinquency. In the U.S., Poitier first experienced the racial chasm that divides the country, a great shock to a boy coming from a society with a black majority. A determination to find and create opportunities for blacks was born in him because of the poor treatment he received on the streets of Miami. At 18, he went to New York, did menial jobs and slept in a bus terminal toilet. A brief stint in the Army as a worker at a veteran's hospital was followed by more menial jobs in Harlem. An impulsive audition at the American Negro Theatre was rejected so forcefully that Poitier dedicated the next six months to overcoming his accent and performance ineptness. On his second try, he was accepted. He was spotted in a rehearsal and given a bit part in a Broadway production of "Lysistrata," for which he got excellent reviews. By the end of 1949, he was having to choose between leading roles on stage and an offer to work for Darryl F. Zanuck in the film No Way Out (1950). Poitier's performance as a doctor treating a white bigot got him plenty of notice and led to more roles, each considerably more interesting and prominent than most black actors of the time were getting. Nevertheless, the roles were still less interesting and prominent than those white actors routinely obtained. But seven years later, after turning down several projects he considered demeaning, Poitier got a number of roles that catapulted him into a category rarely if ever achieved by a black man of that time, that of starring leading man. One of the films, The Defiant Ones (1958), gave Poitier his first Academy Award nomination as Best Actor. Five years later, he won the Oscar for Lilies of the Field (1963), the first black to win for a leading role. Poitier maintained activity on stage, on screen, and in the burgeoning Civil Rights movement. His roles in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) and To Sir, with Love (1967) were for their time landmarks in the breaking down of social barriers between blacks and whites, and Poitier's talent, conscience, integrity, and inherent likability placed him on equal footing with the white stars of the day. He took on directing and producing chores in the Seventies, achieving success in both arenas. Although he has reduced the frequency of his roles in recent years, he remains one of the most respected and beloved figures in American cinema of the twentieth century.
- Along with 'Gary Cooper (I)' (qv), is the most represented actor on the American Film Institute's 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time, with five of his films on the list. They are: _A Raisin in the Sun (1961)_ (qv) at #65, _The Defiant Ones (1958)_ (qv) at #55, _Lilies of the Field (1963)_ (qv) at #46, _Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)_ (qv) at #35, and _In the Heat of the Night (1967)_ (qv) at #21.
- Of Haitian ancestry from his father's side.
- Premiere Magazine ranked him as #20 on a list of the Greatest Movie Stars of All Time in their Stars in Our Constellation feature (2005).
- In 1963 he became the first black man to win an Academy Award, for his role as Homer Smith in _Lilies of the Field (1963)_ (qv).
- His performance as Virgil Tibbs in _In the Heat of the Night (1967)_ (qv) is ranked #20 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.
- When he came to New York from the Caribbean to become an actor, he was so impoverished at first that he slept in the bus station. To get his first major role in _No Way Out (1950)_ (qv), he lied to director 'Joseph L. Mankiewicz' (qv) and told him he was 27, when actually only 22 years old.
- Children: 'Beverly Poitier-Henderson' (qv), 'Pamela Poitier' (qv), 'Sherri Poitier' (qv), Gina Poitier (with Juanita Hardy); 'Anika Poitier' (qv), 'Sydney Tamiia Poitier' (qv) (with 'Joanna Shimkus' (qv)).
- Appointed an Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1974. Although this is often mistaken to have been an honorary knighthood, it is actually a substantive knighthood, as Poitier is a citizen of The Bahamas, a Commonwealth realm which at the time of his appointment recognized the British Honours System. He is thus entitled to be known as Sir Sidney Poitier, but does not himself use this title.