Sidney Poitier Dead at 94: Barack Obama, Viola Davis and More Stars Pay Tribute to the Acclaimed Actor
By Paige Gawley
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Sir Sidney Poitier is being remembered following his death. 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.
"Sidney Poitier was a brilliant and dignified actor who broke the ceiling for many actors of color that followed in his footsteps," said SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher. "Blessed by a long life, he remains a most respected, admired, accomplished actor by his industry peers."
Former President Barack Obama, who presented Poitier with the Medal of Freedom in 2009, posted a photo of him and Michelle Obama posing with the renowned actor, writing, "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."
"If you wanted the sky I would write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand feet high.. To Sir… with Love," Whoopi Goldberg wrote, quoting the song from Poitier's 1967 film, To Sir, with Love. "Sir Sidney Poitier R.I.P. He showed us how to reach for the stars. My condolences to his family and to all of us as well."
My condolences to his family and to all of us as well
In a statement to ET Martin Scorsese, expressed: "For years, the spotlight was on Sidney Poitier. It was almost always for reasons other than the fact that he was an excellent actor. With good reason, given the horrors he faced as a young man and the obstacles he had to overcome long after he became a star. But he had a vocal precision and physical power and grace that at moments seemed almost supernatural. His most widely remembered films are the ones that broke racial barriers in Hollywood, but he was just as good in many other pictures that we should all look at again, like No Way Out, Edge of the City or The Bedford Incident. He was a major figure in our cinema and in our culture, and his courage as an artist and as a citizen were exemplary."
Catherine Zeta-Jones remembered a fun memory with the actor, writing, "One cherished moment was hitting golf balls with you on the driving range at the club. So many more in admiration of you and your craft as an actor. God Bless."
"This is a big one. No words can describe how your work radically shifted my life," Viola Davis began. "The dignity, normalcy, strength, excellence and sheer electricity you brought to your roles showed us that we, as Black folks, mattered!!!"
"It was an honor for my husband and I to share lunch with you at Spagos," she continued. "You told us, 'If your dreams do not scare you, they're not big enough!' I put this quote on my daughter's wall. Rest well Mr. Poitier. Thank you! Thank you for leaving a legacy. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."
For her tribute, Octavia Spencer recalled meeting Poitier for the first time, which was an encounter she'll "never forget."
"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," she recalled. "So, there I am with my heels and an award in my hands, shell shocked and sweaty, GLARING at the two of them. 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," Spencer continued. "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!!"
Tyler Perry wrote that his "heart broke" upon hearing the news of Poitier's death.
"The grace and class that this man has shown throughout his entire life, the example he set for me, not only as a black man but as a human being will never be forgotten," Perry captioned a series of photos of himself with Poitier. "There is no man in this business who has been more of a North Star for me than Sidney Poitier."
"I’ll never forget inviting him and Cicely [Tyson] to fly to South Africa with me. Selfishly, I wanted to hold them both captive for the hours long trip as I literally sat at their feet and listened to their wisdom and experiences. It was life changing," he continued. "All I can say is thank you for your life, thank you for your example, and thank you for your incredible gift. But most of all, thank you for being willing to share YOU to make us all better."
"Sidney Poitier gave us a lifetime of love, courage, pride, and inspiration. His greatness as an actor was only outweighed by his passion for Freedom," Debbie Allen told ET in a statement. "I am grateful to have known him and will always speak his name."
SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher remembered Poitier in a statement, noting that he "was a brilliant and dignified actor who broke the ceiling for many actors of color that followed in his footsteps." Drescher added that, "blessed by a long life, he remains a most respected, admired, accomplished actor by his industry peers."
"My parents met him at an event I took them to where Sidney was being honored. My mom grabbed him, hugged him and told him what a big fan she was, how much she loved him and how gorgeous she thought he was! In true Poitier fashion, he responded with the utmost elegance and charm," Drescher recalled. "Sidney you will long be remembered by your fans around the world! On behalf of his union, my deepest condolences to his family over this profound loss."
Keep reading to see how other celebs honored the acclaimed actor.
Sidney Poitier, the first Black man to win an Oscar, has died at the age of 94. The star of “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” and “Lilies of the Field,” for which he won Best Actor, was a trailblazer who will be mourned by so many for whom he opened the very doors of Hollywood.
RIP Sidney Poitier, 94. When he answered an ad for actors, as an illiterate young man, the theatre owner sneered: ‘Go be a dishwasher.’ Sidney already was a dishwasher. Stung by the jibe, he vowed to prove him wrong. He became the first black man to win the Best Actor Oscar. pic.twitter.com/JNpBWi8nwk
#RIPSidneyPoitier One of cinema’s greatest leading men ever. Riveting to watch. Also an excellent director and from the couple of times I had the honor of meeting him, an extraordinarily intelligent and gracious man. Watch a Poitier movie or two this week. https://t.co/CDRGYIWRxH
Sidney Poitier was a unique man. An award-winning actor, a mentor, and someone who moved through life with elegance and class. I was honored to know him and his wife Joanna and to watch him move through his life. https://t.co/LYG0WWYBsB
Sidney Poitier was everything. A consummate, powerful actor. A man of grace and innate dignity. A leader and a groundbreaker. A good and gentle soul. I cherish his work . Sympathy and peace to his family and loved ones. #RIPSidneyPoitier
He once caught me following him. He said “little girl what do you want” I muttered “can I have your autograph”. From that day he always called me little girl and asked if I wanted his autograph. It was something we laughed about. He was my hero & great friend. May he RIP ❤️. https://t.co/yQhuiDCZse
Mr. P was everything to me! My North Star and guiding light. The very personification of elegance, eloquence, effortless grace and humanity, I have admired and emulated him my entire life. Without Sidney Poitier, quite simply, there would be no LeVar Burton.#RIP#OG#MrP
Thank God for the life of Mr. Sidney Poitier! In a time of great racial strife in our country, he gently changed the world with his kindness, dignity, and integrity. Thank you Mr. Poitier for a life well-lived. Rest, Good and faithful servant. Rest! 🙏🏾🙏🏽🙏🏼 CBV pic.twitter.com/OW4BoXtxxC
Sidney Poitier was an exceptional artist and an extraordinary human being who created change and influence with grace and courage. It was a thrill to have him join in celebrating my 87th birthday and arts fundraising event. Truly one of a kind and he will be missed. pic.twitter.com/SeUxpVChjG
Sidney Poitier changed Hollywood, America, & the world forever through his many unforgettable performances, & through the strength, grace, & dignity he radiated both on screen and off. I’ll always be deeply grateful that I had the chance to spend time with him through the years. pic.twitter.com/IVDrt4OHwb