The legendary actor's trailblazing career included roles in pop cultural milestones Lilies of the Field, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night.
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Sidney Poitier, the actor whose groundbreaking movie roles in the 1950s and 1960s opened doors for generations of Black performers and brought him a history-making Best Actor Academy Award for Lilies of the Field — the first ever given to a Black man — died Friday. He was 94 years old.

EW confirmed the actor's death with Clint Watson, press secretary for the prime minister of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, where Poitier grew up.

Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier in 1988.
| Credit: Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images

In a career that began when segregation was still the law of much of the land and continued for more than half a century, the Bahamian-born Poitier, Hollywood's first Black movie superstar, made more than 50 films, among them Blackboard Jungle, The Defiant Ones, To Sir With Love, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and shattered countless barriers.

"It's a choice, a clear choice," Mr. Poitier said of his career in a 1967 interview, per the New York Times. "If the fabric of the society were different, I would scream to high heaven to play villains and to deal with different images of Negro life that would be more dimensional. But I'll be damned if I do that at this stage of the game."

Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier dead at 94 after becoming the first Black man to win Best Actor at the Oscars.
| Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images

Poitier was also a Tony nominee (in 1960, for originating the role of Walter Lee Younger in Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun), a best-selling memoirist with the Oprah's Book Club selection The Measure of a Man, the first Black man ever to direct a movie that grossed $100 million (1980's Stir Crazy), an Emmy nominee, a Kennedy Center and American Film Institute honoree, and for a time, the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan.

Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier, circa 1965.
| Credit: Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 2002, when Denzel Washington won an Academy Award for Training Day, he raised his statuette to salute Poitier, who had won an honorary Oscar for his achievements "as an artist and a human being" earlier that evening.

"I'll always be chasing you, Sidney," he said, speaking for many. "I'll always be following in your footsteps. There's nothing I would rather do, sir — nothing I would rather do."

In a statement provided to EW, the actor's family said Poitier died surrounded by family and friends and thanked the public for "the outpouring of love from around the world."

"There are no words to convey the deep sense of loss and sadness we are feeling right now," the statement begins. "We are so grateful he was able to spend his last day surrounded by his family and friends. To us Sidney Poitier was not only a brilliant actor, activist, and a man of incredible grace and moral fortitude, he was also a devoted and loving husband, a supportive and adoring father, and a man who always put family first. He is our guiding light who lit up our lives with infinite love and wonder. His smile was healing, his hugs the warmest refuge, and his laughter was infectious. We could always turn to him for wisdom and solace, and his absence feels like a giant hole in our family and our hearts. Although he is no longer here with us in this realm, his beautiful soul will continue to guide and inspire us. He will live on in us, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren — in every belly laugh, every curious inquiry, every act of compassion and kindness. His legacy will live on in the world, continuing to inspire not only with his incredible body of work, but even more so with his humanity."

The statement continues, "We would like to extend our deepest appreciation to every single one of you for the outpouring of love from around the world. So many have been touched by our dad's extraordinary life, his unwavering sense of decency and respect for his fellow man. His faith in humanity never faltered, so know that for all the love you've shown him, he loved you back."

Additional reporting by Joey Nolfi and Tyler Aquilina.

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