Sidney Poitier, the first Black man to win an Oscar, is credited with opening doors for numerous other Black performers over his six-decade career.
Commemorations for the icon flooded in after his passing on January 6 at the age of 94. Former President Barack Obama described Sidney as “a singular talent who epitomized dignity and grace.”
A friend later added: “He was a compassionate man and opened doors for all of us that had been closed for years.” Sidney’s fellow actor Denzel Washington described it as a privilege for him.
Sidney Poitier won his first leading part in the 1955 picture Blackboard Jungle, and he went on to act in 55 other movies and TV shows. He will be remembered for shattering Hollywood’s racial barriers.
The Bahamian-American actor married Canadian actress Joanna Shimkus in 1976, and as the proverb says, “No man succeeds without a good lady behind him.”
However, he had already been married, had four children, and engaged in an affair when he first met Shimkus.
Poitier, the youngest of seven children, was born and raised on Cat Island in the Bahamas, where his father had a farm. He spent the first ten years of his life there. Poitier unexpectedly arrived three months early, which qualified him for U.S. citizenship. The family would fly to Miami to market goods.
He first relocated to Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, before migrating to America when he was 15 and enlisting in the military as a teen while lying about his age.
Before getting a part with the American Negro Theatre in Harlem, New York, after leaving the army, he worked as a dishwasher. It was the aspiring actor’s second effort to get in after his first audition, when he was 18 years old, when he was informed he “could hardly read” and couldn’t be an actor with the accent he had.
Despite the harsh rejection, he persisted and went out and bought a radio so he could imitate the accents he heard, read any newspaper and magazine he could get his hands on, and enlisted the help of an elderly Jewish waiter at the restaurant where he worked as a dishwasher to help him read and expand his vocabulary.
He first debuted on our screens more than ten years ago, and more than ten years later, he won his first Oscar for the movie “Lilies of the Field.”
However, his part in “The Lost Man,” when he first met Joanna Shimkus, may have been his most significant one.
Four years after Poitier and his first wife Juanita Hardy’s divorce, the film was released in 1969.
It was also the year following the end of his nine-year relationship with the actress Diahann Carroll.
Juanita Hardy and Sidney’s first union lasted for 15 years. 1950 saw their marriage and 1965 saw their divorce. However, his marriage to Joanna Shimkus endured, and the two of them had two daughters.
“I guess we were just destined to be [together],” Joanna said in 1998.
Shimkus took a break from acting between 1972 and 2010 to raise their daughters Anika and Sidney who have both followed in their parents’ footsteps.
Anika directed “Black Irish,” where Shimkus was an executive producer as well. Meanwhile, Sidney appeared in “Veronica Mars” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof.”
Speaking about how they’ve made it work, Poitier said in an interview “There is one key ingredient my wife has helped me to recognize over the years, and that is the importance of articulating love for one another on a daily basis.”
“My wife and my children mean the most to me,” Sidney told People in 2016, while Shimkus added another detail to making their relationship last: “We’ve been together 49 years and I’m a good cook. I cook every night. … I take good care of him.”
He received an honorary Academy Award for his services in the entertainment industry, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a knighthood from the Queen, but despite all of his accomplishments, he never forgot how important family is.
The esteemed actor would often get together with his wife, ex-wife, and his six daughters, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
Looking back in history, we’ve seen many examples of couples having difficulty navigating an interracial relationship.
But according to Joanna, it wasn’t a problem for her and her husband.
“I grew up in Canada and I never really had any kind of prejudice — it’s unlike America. I just never had those feelings. And we’ve never had a problem, actually. It could be that we lead a very quiet life. It could be that it’s just the way it is, I don’t really know. But I never really did see him as a Black man. I mean, I know he is Black, but I just saw him as a man, and he was just a wonderful person. An amazing human being,” she said in the documentary Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light.
RIP Sidney Poitier. You will forever hold a place in the hearts of people around the world for your talent, grace, and determination in the face of adversity.