Biden and Harris join tributes to ‘once-in-a-generation’ actor Sidney Poitier

US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have commended Sidney Poitier for changing the world “on and off the screen” after his death at the age of 94.

The leaders recognized Poitier’s talent as an actor as well as his work in promoting dialogue about race and civil rights.

The Bahamian-American actor became known through films like In The Heat Of The Night, Blackboard Jungle and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner – and was the first black man to win the Oscar for best actor.

In a statement shared by the White House, President Biden lamented the loss of the “once in a generation” actor who helped “open the hearts of millions”.

“Sidney was more than just one of the best actors in our history. His iconic performances… reflected America’s racist attitudes in the 1950s and 1960s, ”he said.

“With unwavering size and poise – his unique warmth, depth and stature on screen – Sidney helped open the hearts of millions and changed the way America saw itself.

“He paved a path for our nation to take and a legacy that touches every part of our society today.”

Vice President Harris added, “Sidney Poitier changed our world both on and off the screen.

“As an Oscar-winning actor and ambassador, he drove our race and civil rights dialogue at a time when we needed him most.”

Poet Amanda Gorman, who rose to fame after a reading at the inauguration ceremonies of Biden and Harris in January 2021, said she owed “her voice” to Poitier.

“#SidneyPoitier was a pioneer for color artists everywhere,” wrote the 23-year-old.

“When I was 9, I read that he was imitating Sender because he was ridiculed for his accent. For the next 10 years, I did the same thing to try to overcome my own language disorder.

“I owe him my vote. Never doubt that representation is important. “

Former US President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as Vice President, shared a photo of himself and his wife Michelle next to Poitier after awarding the esteemed actor the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

Obama wrote, “Through his groundbreaking roles and unique talent, Sidney Poitier embodied dignity and grace, and revealed the power of film to bring us closer together.

“It also opened doors for a generation of actors.

“Michelle and I send our love to his family and legion of fans.”

US talk show host Oprah Winfrey posted a photo of the couple in a happy hug and added an emotional message: “For me, the greatest of the ‘Great Trees’ has fallen: Sidney Poitier.

“I am honored to have loved him as a mentor. Friend. Brothers. Familiar. Wisdom teacher.

“The greatest, highest respect and praise for his greatest, most gracious, eloquent life.

“I appreciated him. I adored him. He had an enormous soul that I will cherish forever. Blessings for Joanna and his world of beautiful daughters. “

British singer Lulu, who sang the theme song for To Sir, With Love, in which Poitier starred, said the actor led by example and “empowered and educated” many.

The singer, who also appeared in the film alongside Poitier, said in a statement: “Sidney, you were my friend, my teacher, my inspiration …

“Sir rises above the fight and sets a good example. This is how you led your life, you empowered and raised us so that we may choose to follow your example.”

Singing legends Diana Ross and Nancy Sinatra also paid tribute to Poitier.

Shared a black and white photo of her and the actor, Ross said, “A wonderful, great man who will always be remembered.”

Sinatra wrote, “All the best, dear Sidney, and thank you for your courage,” along with a quote from Leo Rosten, adding that Poitier “definitely made a difference”.

Following news of Poitier’s death, the Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis held a press conference reflecting on the actor’s legacy.

He said, “All of our Bahamas are in mourning. But even when we mourn, we celebrate the life of a great Bahamas.

“A cultural icon, an actor and film director, civil and human rights activist and diplomat.

“We admire the man not only because of his colossal achievement, but also because of his person.

“His strength of character, his willingness to stand up and be counted, and the way he planned and navigated his life path.

“The boy who moved from the tomato farm to the waiter in the USA, a young man who not only taught himself to read and write, but also made the expression of words, thoughts and feelings a central point of his career.”

Best known for his work in the 50s and 60s, Poitier paved the way for generations of African American actors.

Growing up in the Bahamas, a British colony at the time, Poitier returned to America at 15 and worked in a number of low-paying jobs until he later joined the American Negro Theater, a collaborative venture in Harlem. was founded in 1940.

He played his first major role in Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata in 1946, but by 1949 he had switched from theater to film.

In 1963, he received an Oscar for Lilies in the Field, in which he played a Baptist craftsman building a chapel for a group of Roman Catholic nuns, and became the first black winner of the trophy for best actor.

The Academy said on Twitter after his death: “Poitier was a groundbreaking and enduring inspiration who drove racial dialogue in the US through his art. Few movie stars had or will have the influence that Poitier had both on and off the screen. “

The actor was made a Knight of Honor in 1974 due to his Bahamian origins and received the Kennedy Center Honor in 1995.

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