Oscar winner and Tony nominee Sidney Poitier, known to theatre fans for his performance in the original Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun, died January 6. He was 94 years old, with the news confirmed to CNN by Clint Watson, press secretary for the Prime Minister of the Bahamas.
Mr. Poitier was a trailblazing performer, making his debut on the Main Stem in 1946 as Probulos in a staging of Lysistrata. The following year, he played Lester in a revival of Anna Lucasta. During the ‘50s, the performer moved to film, landing roles in films like Blackboard Jungle, Porgy and Bess, and The Defiant Ones, the latter earning him his first Academy Award nomination.
Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun opened at the Barrymore Theatre in 1959, the first play written by a Black woman to open on Broadway, in which Mr. Poitier played Walter Lee Younger. Already noted for his roles on film by this point, the stage performance landed him a Tony nomination. He went on to reprise his performance in the 1961 film adaptation, earning a Golden Globe nomination.
Soon after, he won an Oscar—the first Best Actor Academy Award won by a Black man—for his performance in Lilies of the Field. In 2002, Mr. Poitier received an Honorary Oscar for his contribution to film, including his performances in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, and A Patch of Blue.
As previously announced, a new play about the performer and activist is in the works. Charles Randolph-Wright is writing Sidney, based on Poitier's best-selling autobiography The Measure of a Man, with Tony winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson attached to direct.
Born February 20, 1927, in Miami, Florida, Mr. Poitier was raised in the Bahamas on his parents' farm before moving to the U.S. to enlist in the Army. NBC reports the performer spent his time working in a medical unit. He made his way to NYC in the ‘40s and joined the American Negro Theatre before landing roles on Broadway.
Later in his career, the star directed several film and TV projects, but continued to appear on screen occasionally. He retired around the turn of the century, but continued to work as an activist. From 1997 to 2007, he served as the Bahamas’ ambassador to Japan, and he wrote two autobiographies and a novel.
In addition to his competitive and honorary Oscar, Mr. Poitier was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1995, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, and a Grammy for narrating his first autobiography, among other achievements.
Mr. Poitier is survived by his wife, Joanna Shimkus and five daughters. Two, Anika and Sydney Tamiaa, with Shimkus; and three, Beverly, Pamela, Sherri, with his first wife, Juanita Hardy. He also has eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His daughter, Gina, with Hardy, passed away in 2018.
[An earlier version of this article mistakenly reported the number of Mr. Poitier's surviving children.]