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Sidney Poitier dies aged 94: tributes pour in for legendary Oscar-winning actor

Tributes have poured in for Sidney Poitier from the world of entertainment, after his death was announced

<p>Sir Sydney Poitier with Denzel Washington (left) at the 2016 Carousel Of Hope Ball at The Beverly Hilton Hotel (Photo: Getty)</p>

Sir Sydney Poitier with Denzel Washington (left) at the 2016 Carousel Of Hope Ball at The Beverly Hilton Hotel (Photo: Getty)

Sidney Poitier, the Oscar-winning actor, has died aged 94.

The Bahamian-American star was best known for his roles in films like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night and Lilies of the Field, for which he became the first Black man to win a Best Actor Oscar.

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In the film In the Heat of the Night he delivered the iconic line: "They call me Mister Tibbs".

In a glittering career, he received two further Academy Award nominations, 10 Golden Globes nominations, two Primetime Emmy Awards nominations, six BAFTA nominations, eight Laurel nominations, and one Screen Actors Guild Awards nomination.

Sir Sidney was made an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen in 1974.

Sidney Poitier at the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party (Photo: Getty)

The news of his death was announced by Minister of Foreign Affairs for The Bahamas, Fred Mitchell.

Sir Sidney's cause of death has not yet been announced.

Bahamas Prime Minister Chester Cooper said he was “conflicted with great sadness and a sense of celebration when I learned of the passing of Sir Sidney Poitier”.

He added: “Sadness that he would no longer be here to tell him how much he means to us, but celebration that he did so much to show the world that those from the humblest beginnings can change the world and that we gave him his flowers while he was with us.

“We have lost an icon; a hero, a mentor, a fighter, a national treasure.”

Sidney Poitier and Judy Geeson dancing in front of a crowd in a scene from the film ‘To Sir, With Love’, filmed at Victoria Barracks in Windsor, England, 1967. (Photo by Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Born to Bahamian parents while they were visiting Miami to sell tomatoes in 1927, Sir Sidney grew up in the then British colony of the Bahamas but returned to the US aged 15.

As one of few Black leading men, he was a ground-breaking figure in Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s, alongside Harry Belafonte.

Sidney Poitier (centre) supporting the Poor People’s Campaign at Resurrection City, a shantytown set up by protestors in Washington, DC, May 1968 (Photo: Getty Images)

‘One of the greatest actors of all time’

Writing on Twitter shortly after his death was announced, the actor Jeffrey Wright paid tribute to Sir Sidney, calling him “One of a kind. What a beautiful, gracious, warm, genuinely regal man. RIP, Sir. With love.”

Fellow Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg wrote that Sir Sidney “showed us how to reach for the stars”.

Hollywood actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt called Sir Sidney an “absolute legend”.

Sopranos star Steve Van Zandt said Sir Sidney was “one of the greatest actors of all time”.

The actor Russ Tamblyn said Sir Sidney “changed the way Hollywood treated and saw Black actors in film”.

When Denzel Washington won his Academy Award in 2002 for Training Day, he said, “Forty years I’ve been chasing Sidney... I’ll always be following in your footsteps.”

Former US president Barack Obama said: “Through his groundbreaking roles and singular talent, Sidney Poitier epitomised 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.”

Poitier’s first major role came in Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata in 1946 but by 1949 he had moved away from theatre and into film.

His breakthrough arrived in Blackboard Jungle in 1955, playing a rebellious but musically talented pupil in an inner-city school.

Three years later he was nominated for an Oscar and won a Bafta for his performance in The Defiant Ones, about two escaped prisoners, one white and one black, who are shackled together and must work with each other to achieve freedom.

In 1963, he was awarded an Oscar for Lilies Of The Field, in which he played a Baptist handyman who builds a chapel for a group of Roman Catholic nuns, and became the first black winner of the best actor trophy.

The only black actor before him to win a competitive Oscar was Hattie McDaniel, for best supporting actress in 1939 for Gone With The Wind.

By the 1990s he was taking roles only sporadically, in thrillers such as Sneakers and The Jackal, and had assumed the role of elder statesman.

In 2009 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Bafta fellowship in 2016.

He was married twice, to Juanita Hardy between 1950 and 1965 and to Joanna Shimkus in 1976, and had six children.

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