The legendary actor, who was the first Black man to win a Best Actor Oscar, died on Jan. 6. He was 94.
Born in Miami, Poitier was raised in his native Bahamas, on a rural farm with no electricity or running water. He later moved to Harlem, washing dishes to pay his way.
He went on to serve in the Army before joining the American Negro Theater, where he traded janitorial services for dramatic arts training. His career began on Broadway, with a role in Lysistrata.
His breakthrough big screen role was as Dr. Brooks in 1950’s racial drama No Way Out. He went on to star in countless films, earning prestigious awards and accolades including the Best Actor Academy Award for his turn in Lilies of the Field. Other iconic films of his include To Sir With Love, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which continued to interrogate themes of race and class.
Outside of his acting, Poitier explored those same issues offscreen as an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement. He later served as the Ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan from 1997 to 2007.
He was married twice: first to Juanita Hardy, from 1950 until 1965, and then to Joanna Shimkus, whom he wed in 1976 and remained married to until his death. He leaves behind Shimkus as well as five daughters: Beverly, Pamela, Sherri, Anika and Sydney. His daughter Gina Poitier died in 2018.