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Groundbreaking actor Sidney Poitier dies at 94

In 1964, Sidney Poitier made history when he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for "Lilies of the Field."

WASHINGTON — Sidney Poitier, the legendary actor who made history as the first Black actor to win the Oscar for best lead performance, has died at the age of 94.

Poitier, winner of the best actor Oscar in 1964 for “Lilies of the Field,” died Thursday in the Bahamas, Eugene Torchon-Newry, acting director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Bahamas, confirmed to the Associated Press. 

Poitier starred in such films as "The Defiant Ones," which earned him his first Oscar nomination, "A Patch of Blue," "In the Heat of the Night" and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." 

In 2001, Poitier was also presented with an honorary Academy Award.

The noted actor was born in Miami and grew up in the Bahamas and the United States, according to his Academy Awards bio. In addition to his award-winning acting career, Poitier directed nine movies.

Before Poitier, the son of Bahaman tomato farmers, no Black actor had a sustained career as a lead performer or could get a film produced based on his own star power. Before Poitier, few Black actors were permitted a break from the stereotypes of bug-eyed servants and grinning entertainers.

In 2009, President Barack Obama presented the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Poitier. 

Credit: Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP
Sidney Poitier arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, March 2, 2014, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP)

Tributes began pouring in across social media as news of his death spread Friday morning. 

"He showed us how to reach for the stars," Whoopi Goldberg tweeted

In 2021, Arizona State University unveiled the Sidney Poitier New American Film School. The university said at the time that it was expanding its existing film program into its own school, in order to create one of the largest, most accessible and most diverse film schools. 

Credit: AP
Actor Sidney Poitier is photographed with his Oscar statuette at the 36th Annual Academy Awards in Santa Monica, Calif. on April 13, 1964. He won Best Actor for his role in "Lillies of the Field." (AP Photo)

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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