The actor, who was the first Black man to win a Best Actor Oscar, died Thursday evening. Clint Watson, press secretary for the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, confirmed the news to ET. Poitier was 94.
Winfrey took to Instagram to share her thoughts on the late actor, whom she has openly regarded as a confidant and guide for many years.
"For me, the greatest of the 'Great Trees' has fallen: Sidney Poitier. My honor to have loved him as a mentor. Friend. Brother. Confidant. Wisdom teacher," she captioned a photo of the two together. "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 🙏🏾"
"When I tell you profoundly, I could start weeping right now, I was profoundly, deeply, sincerely moved by that moment," Winfrey said, looking back on Poitier’s historic Oscar win for Lilies of the Field. At the time, the future talk show host was only 10 years old. "We were being called colored people at the time. [And] I had never seen a colored man look like that or present like that. And I just thought if he could do that, I wonder what I could do."
She added, "And because he did that, I was able to do what I have been able to do in the world, and every single other Black person who followed. It only happened because he was able not just to do that, but to be that. It's what he represented: his dignity, integrity, presence, grace, sense of honor, choice of characters only doing, and choosing roles that were going to reflect the best of what a Black person could be in the world."
Looking back on his filmography and what Poitier achieved as an actor, especially during the civil rights movement, Winfrey points out that “beneath the surface of all of his work, underlying all of his work was the cry for, the plea for, the working towards racial justice in the world in a way that he was able to humanize Black people.”
She added, “And that was his intention and his goal.”
Poitier, Winfrey noted, was the person who opened the door for Black people in Hollywood and onscreen, from film to TV. “His very being and presence in the world -- not just as an actor but as a father and as a human being -- has laid the groundwork for people like me and generations to come that will benefit from his work,” she said. “There would be no Kevin Frazier, sitting up onEntertainment Tonight without a Sidney Poitier… We’re part of the chain but he was the first link.”
Winfrey knew Poitier for many years, which turned into weekly calls she coined "Sundays With Sidney." She told ET it was one of the greatest joys in her life, especially for the 10-year-old version of herself. “[I] not only got to meet him, but got to know him in such a way that he enhanced my life,” she gushed. “So, I mean, love him, just love him."