‘I adored him’: Hollywood icon dies at 94

Tributes are pouring in for Sidney Poitier, who was the first African-American to win a Best Actor Oscar, who has passed away at age 94.

Hollywood heavyweights are paying tribute to Sidney Poitier, the groundbreaking film icon who paved the way for a generation of African-American actors, who has died aged 94.

The Hollywood star was known for films including 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.

Oprah Winfrey was among the first to pay tribute to the widely respected actor.

“My honour to have loved him as a mentor. Friend. Brother. Confidant. Wisdom teacher,” she posted on Instagram.

“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.”

Former US president Barack Obama, who presented Poitier with the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, reflected on the actor’s legacy in a touching post.

Actor Morgan Freeman described Poitier as “my inspiration, my guiding light, my friend.”

TV personality and actor Whoopi Goldberg tweeted: “If you wanted the sky I would write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand feet high: To Sir … with Love.

“Sir Sidney Poitier R.I.P. He showed us how to reach for the stars.”

The news of Poitier’s death was announced by Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell.

“We’ve lost a great a Bahamian and I’ve lost a personal friend,” he said.

Poitier, who held dual US and Bahamian nationality, was “an icon, a hero, a mentor, a fighter, a national treasure,” Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper said on his official Facebook page.

“I was conflicted with great sadness and a sense of celebration when I learned of the passing of Sir Sidney Poitier,” Mr Cooper said. “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.

“He will be missed sorely, but his is a legacy that will never be forgotten.”

Bahamian-American star Poitier was automatically granted US citizenship after being unexpectedly born in Miami while his parents were visiting.

He grew up in the Bahamas but moved to America when he was 15, scoring his first film role in 1955’s Blackboard Jungle.

His first Best Actor Oscar nomination came for The Defiant Ones (1958), alongside co-star Tony Curtis.

It was just six years later when he won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Lilies of the Field.

Denzel Washington praised Poitier when he became the second black man to win Best Actor for 2001 film Training Day, saying: “I’ll always be chasing you, Sidney. I’ll always be following in your footsteps. There’s nothing I would rather do, sir.”

In 1967, Poitier starred in three films that addressed the issue of race relations: To Sir, with Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night.

Perhaps his best known line was from In The Heat of the Night – where he worked alongside a racist policeman to solve a murder – and declared: “Call me Mr Tibbs!”.

Poitier married twice, the first time to Juanita Hardy from 1960 to 1965.

After a nine-year affair with actor and singer Diahann Carol, Poitier married Joanna Shimkus in 1976. They stayed together for the remainder of his life.

Poitier is survived by six children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Poitier was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2002 for his “extraordinary performances” on the silver screen and his “dignity, style and intelligence” off of it.

In 2000 he told Oprah Winfrey he felt an “enormous responsibility” when he became the first black man to win the Best Actor Oscar.

“I accepted it, and I lived in a way that showed how I respected that responsibility. I had to. In order for others to come behind me, there were certain things I had to do.”

Poitier’s death comes a week after the loss of television icon Betty White, who was 99.

Tributes poured in for the actor from near and far.

Whoopi Goldberg quoted the lyrics to the song To Sir With Love, which soundtracked Poitier’s 1967 film.

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