Barack Obama leads tributes to Hollywood legend Sir Sidney Poitier who died aged 94

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  • Sidney Poitier
    Sidney Poitier
    American-Bahamian actor
  • Barack Obama
    Barack Obama
    44th president of the United States
Sir Sidney Poitier poses at the 74th annual Academy Awards in 2002 (AP)
Sir Sidney Poitier poses at the 74th annual Academy Awards in 2002 (AP)

Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey have paid tribute to Hollywood legend Sir Sidney Poitier after his death at the age of 94.

The “trailblazing” Bahamian-American actor was the first black man to win the Oscar for best actor.

He was known for films including In The Heat Of The Night, Blackboard Jungle and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.

Former US president Mr Obama shared a photo of himself and his wife Michelle standing alongside Poitier after he had awarded the esteemed actor the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

Mr Obama wrote: “Through his groundbreaking roles and singular talent, Sidney Poitier epitomised dignity and grace, revealing the power of movies to bring us closer together.

“He also opened doors for a generation of actors.

“Michelle and I send our love to his family and legion of fans.”

US talk show host Winfrey posted a photo of the pair in a joyful embrace and added an emotional message, saying: “For me, the greatest of the ‘Great Trees’ has fallen: Sidney Poitier.

“My honour 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.”

Sir Sidney’s cause of death has not been confirmed.

Actress Reese Witherspoon posted a photo of her and Poitier to Twitter and said: “Today we lost a legend. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Sidney Poitier.

“As a long time fan, I cherished hearing his incredible stories of how he changed perceptions in Hollywood.

“His incredible performances are filled with dignity, strength, truth and deep humanity.”

Singing legend Diana Ross also paid her condolences to Poitier’s family and shared a black and white photo of her and the actor, adding: “A wonderful, great man, Will always be remembered.”

The Bahamian-American actor was recognised with a string of accolades throughout his career.

These include two further Academy Award nominations, ten Golden Globe nominations, two Emmy nominations and six Bafta shortlists.

Sidney Portier (Getty Images)
Sidney Portier (Getty Images)

His death was confirmed by Bahamian politician and Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell.

“We’ve lost a great Bahamian and I’ve lost a personal friend,” Mitchell said.

Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper added: “Sadness that he would no longer be here to tell him how much he means to us, but celebration that he did so much to show the world that those from the humblest beginnings can change the world and that we gave him his flowers while he was with us.”

The Oscar-winning star was known as one of the biggest names in Hollywood and had starred in more than 50 films.

No Time To Die actor Jeffrey Wright said: “What a landmark actor. One of a kind. What a beautiful, gracious, warm, genuinely regal man. RIP, Sir. With love.”

Former United States Ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard called Poitier a “beautiful man”, adding: “It’s next to near impossible to have to describe the importance of Sidney Poitier to millions.

“It’s like trying to explain the concept of gravity.

“He was our ground and had a seismic impact on black representation. We knew and loved him like a family member.”

Dark Knight Rises actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote: “Sidney Poitier. An absolute legend. One of the greats.”

In 1967, Poitier starred in three films that addressed the issue of race relations: To Sir, with Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night, which was directed by Norman Jewison.

In the latter, he played Virgil Tibbs, a black police detective from Philadelphia, who becomes involved in a murder investigation in a small town in Mississippi.

It became so known for Poitier’s line of dialogue “They call me Mr Tibbs” that a sequel named after the quote (stylised They Call Me MISTER Tibbs) arrived in 1970.

His other classic films of that era included A Patch of Blue in 1965 in which his character develops a heartwarming friendship with a blind white girl, The Blackboard Jungle and A Raisin in the Sun, which Poitier also performed on Broadway.

Poitier was born in Miami on Feb 20, 1927.

He was raised on a tomato farm in the Bahamas and had just one year of formal schooling.

Poitier overcame poverty, illiteracy and prejudice to become one of the first Black actors to be known and accepted by mainstream audiences in Hollywood.

“I love you, I respect you, I imitate you,” Denzel Washington, another Oscar winner, once told Poitier at a public ceremony.

As a director, Poitier worked with his friend Harry Belafonte and Bill Cosby in Uptown Saturday Night in 1974 and Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in 1980’s Stir Crazy.

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