Hollywood honors Sidney Poitier, iconic actor who showed Black actors 'how to reach for the stars'
Whoopi Goldberg — the first Black actress to receive two acting Oscar nominations, and the second Black woman to win Best Supporting Actress, after Hattie McDaniel — paid tribute to Poitier on Twitter, signing her note "with love" with respect to how the actor "showed us how to reach for the stars."
Goldberg's second nomination (for her work in Ghost) came in 1990, nearly three decades after Poitier became the first Black man to win the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in Lilies of the Field in 1963 — a milestone moment after he became a pioneering Black superstar in the American film industry, with substantial hits produced throughout the '50s and '60s.
Viola Davis, who in 2021 became the most-nominated actress in Oscars history with her fourth acting nod for the Netflix film Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, called Poitier's death "a big one" for the community: "No words can describe how your work radically shifted my life," she continued in a tweet. "The dignity, normalcy, strength, excellence, and sheer electricity you brought to your roles showed us that we, as Black folks, mattered!!!"
Octavia Spencer — the first Black actress to receive an Oscar nomination (The Shape of Water) after previously winning (The Help) — similarly recalled Poitier's influence on her life and career in her remembrance, which she shared in the form a sweet memory of an interaction with him.
"I will never forget the occasion where I met Mr. Poitier. I had just won an award and he and Helen Mirren were walking through the kitchen to the stage to present. When I have an overload of adrenaline it has an adverse affect. I can't bend my knees. So, there I am with my heels and an award in my hands, shell shocked and sweaty, GLARING at the two of them," she wrote on Instagram. "I was searching for the one word to say but couldn't remember any. I must've been a pitiful sight because he stopped with the biggest smile and congratulated me. I finally blurted out I love you… both. He told me he expected great things from me. There's something about hearing those words from a pioneer that changes you! Thank you, Mr. Poitier!! I've been riding high ever since!!"
Don Cheadle said in a statement: "Gutted. again. Lost another royal. Sir Poitier had no peer, and we'll never see his like again. He was the standard-bearer for generations of actors/directors who came after him. The last time I saw Sidney was at a golf course in L.A. I saw him across the room and walked toward him with my hand out to shake his. Ignoring my hand, he opened both of his arms wide and embraced me warmly. Then he let me go and held me at arm's length, staring me in my eyes, and said in his signature cadence, 'I dig what you do, my man.' I almost fainted. He told me to keep it up and keep representing us. I told him I would do my best and that he was irreplaceable. We were so blessed to have him for as long as we did, and he will be sorely and surely missed."
Former President Barack Obama, who in 2009 awarded Poitier the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, for his artistic and humanitarian achievements, also paid tribute, writing on Twitter, "Through his groundbreaking roles and singular talent, Sidney Poitier epitomized 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."
See more reactions to Poitier's death below.
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