Sidney Poitier celebrated his 90th birthday last Monday, February 20th, making him the oldest-living winner of the Best Actor Oscar Award. Now retired from acting, Poitier has earned a number of honors and accolades over the course of his praise-worthy career.
Born in 1927, Poitier’s farmer parents lived in the Bahamas but traveled to Miami for work opportunities. Poitier was delivered prematurely in the United States, thus giving him dual citizenship. He was raised until age of 16 in the island nation before his parents sent the delinquent youth to New York.
Toiling in a series of odd jobs, Poitier lied about his age to enter the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged after year. Working as a dishwasher in New York, Poitier learned of a series of acting auditions for the American Negro Theater. After failing to make the troupe his first time, Poitier’s second audition landed him a spot in the ANT’s ranks.
The ANT’s production of Days Of Your Youth also featured a young Harry Belafonte and Poitier was often a stand-in his fellow Caribbean descendant. In 1950, Poitier made his film debut in No Way Out as Dr. Luther Brooks. His refined acting skills, dashing good looks, and distinctive voice made him an early star.
In 1964, Poitier was awarded the Best Actor Academy Award for his role in Lillies Of The Field, a film he also won the Best Actor Golden Globes Award for as well. Poitier was knighted in the Order of the British Empire in 1974, although he prefers not to be referred to as “Sir” as is custom.
After his retirement from acting in 2001, Poitier served as the non-resident Bahamian Ambassador to Japan. He is also a 2009 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was awarded a BAFTA fellowship last year.
In 2001, Poitier won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for the reading of his book, The Measures Of A Man. The next year, he received an honorary Oscar for his body of work.
In his own acceptance speech for Best Actor for Training Day that year, Denzel Washington said he’d been chasing Poitier for forty years. He quipped “They finally give it to me and what do they do, give it to him on the same night.”
Poitier has been married twice, first to Juanita Hardy and then to his current wife, Joanna Shimkus. He had four daughters with his first wife and two with Shimkus. Poitier also has eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.