On April 13, 1964, Sidney Poitier became the first Black male to win the Best Actor at the 36th annual Academy Awards for his film “Lilies of the Field.” He was also the first Bahamian to win the award as well.
Poitier was born in Miami, Florida, on February 20, 1927. Sadly, he passed away earlier this year, on January 6, 2022, in Beverly Hills, California. He died at 94 years old, only one month shy of his 95th birthday. According to a death certificate obtained by TMZ, his cause of death was a cardiopulmonary failure, with Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer listed as underlying causes.
Many political leaders, like President Joe Biden and former president Barack Obama, paid him tribute, as well as many actors in the entertainment industry, like Morgan Freeman, Ron Howard, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Scorsese, and Octavia Spencer.
Sidney Poitier Has Won Many Awards Throughout His Life
In 1974, Sidney Poitier was granted a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II. In 1982, he received the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award. He received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1995. In 1999, he received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. In 2002, he won an Honorary Oscar to recognize his “remarkable accomplishment as an artist and as a human being.”
In 2009, then-President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. In 2016, he was awarded the BAFTA Fellowships for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in film.
But it was his very first Oscar, obtained on April 13, 1964, that really established his legacy. The video of Poitier accepting his Oscar can be viewed below.
Poitier gave a short speech when he won his Oscar, thanking those who supported him in his journey. He said:
“Because it is a long journey to this moment I am naturally indebted to countless numbers of people, principally among whom are Ralph Nelson, James Poe, William Barrett, Martin Baum, and of course the members of the Academy. For all of them, all I can say is a very special thank you.”
However, his second Oscar speech was a lot longer.
Denzel Washington Introduced Sidney Poitier For His Honorary Oscar
At the 74th annual Academy Awards, Denzel Washington introduced Sidney Poitier with a short speech.
“From time to time the Academy bestows an honorary award on a member of the film industry. Sometimes for a body of work, sometimes for work done to better the industry. Sometimes for the influence created for other filmmakers around the world.
“This year they honor a man who qualifies in all three areas. And who is also unique in the history of film. They call him Sidney Poitier.
“Before Sidney, African-American actors had to take supporting roles in major studio films, that were easy to cut out in certain parts of the country. But you couldn’t cut Sidney Poitier out of a Sidney Poitier picture. He was the reason a movie got made. the first solo, above the title, African-American movie star. He was unique.”
Poitier’s full speech can be viewed in the video above or read below.
Sidney Poitier Gives Full Speech For His Honorary Oscar Award
Poitier began his speech, saying, “I arrived in Hollywood at the age of 22 in a time different than today’s, a time in which the odds against my standing here tonight 53 years later would not have fallen in my favor. Back then, no route had been established for where I was hoping to go, no pathway left in evidence for me to trace, no custom for me to follow.”
He continued, “Yet, here I am this evening at the end of a journey that in 1949 would have been considered almost impossible and in fact might never have been set in motion were there not an untold number of courageous, unselfish choices made by a handful of visionary American film-makers, directors, writers, and producers; each with a strong sense of citizenship responsibility to the times in which they lived; each unafraid to permit their art to reflect their views and values, ethical and moral, and moreover, acknowledge them as their own.”
‘America Benefited From Their Effort’
“They knew the odds that stood against them and their efforts were overwhelming and likely could have proven too high to overcome. Still, those filmmakers persevered, speaking through their art to the best in all of us. And I’ve benefited from their effort. The industry benefited from their effort. America benefited from their effort. And in ways large and small the world has also benefited from their effort.”
“Therefore, with respect, I share this great honor with the late Joe Mankiewicz, the late Richard Brooks, the late Ralph Nelson, the late Darryl Zanuck, the late Stanley Kramer, the Mirisch brothers – especially Walter whose friendship lies at the very heart of this moment – Guy Green, Norman Jewison, and all others who have had a hand in altering the odds for me and for others.”
“Without them, this most memorable moment would not have come to pass and the many excellent young actors who have followed in admirable fashion might not have come as they have to enrich the tradition of American film-making as they have. I accept this award in memory of all the African-American actors and actresses who went before me in the difficult years, on whose shoulders I was privileged to stand to see where I might go.”
“My love and my thanks to my wonderful, wonderful wife, my children, my grandchildren, my agent and friend Martin Baum. And finally, to those audience members around the world who have placed their trust in my judgment as an actor and filmmaker, I thank each of you for your support through the years. Thank you.”