‘In the Heat of the Night’ Star Dies at 94

Sidney Poitier, the noble leading man whose work in films like No way out, Lilies of the field and In the heat of the night paved the way for minority actors and actresses everywhere, dead. He is 94 years old.

Poitier passed away on Thursday night at his home in Beverly Hills, a representative for his family said. The Hollywood Reporter.

Poitier was the first Black man to win an Academy Award for Best Actor as he was recognized for his portrayal of a kind-hearted man for the Arizona nuns in Lilies of the field (In 1963).

He received a previous best actor nomination for his turn as a convict on the run. The Defiant Ones (In 1958).

In 2002, he received an honorary Oscar from the Academy “for his exceptional performances and unique on-screen presence and for representing the film industry with dignity, style, and wisdom on the world stage.” all over the world.”

Poitier was the first actor to star in Hollywood films depicting the Black man in an unconventional style, and his influence, especially in the 1950s and 60s, as a role model. and image maker, is enormous.

His willful and lilting voice contains the grace and enchanting manner that makes him one of the most beloved stars in Hollywood history.

Poitier was also the first Black actor to become the nation’s top box-officer, achieving that title in 1967 when he starred in three memorable films: To Him, With Love, work as a teacher in London; In the heat of the night, as Philadelphia Detective Virgil Tibbs; and Guess Who’s going to have dinner, as the fiancé of a white woman. All are standard performances.

“I made movies when the only black person on the lot was a shoe shine boy – as was the case with Metro. I’m the loner in town,” he said Newsweek in 1988.

Since his debut on the big screen in 1947, Poitier has appeared in more than 40 films, including Blackboard forest (1955) and landmark Golden light in the sun (In 1961).

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Sidney Poitier with Rod Steiger in the film ‘In the Heat of the Night’ in 1967
United Artists / Photofest

In 1969, Poitier teamed up with Paul Newman and Barbra Streisand (later joined by Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman) to form the independent production company First Artists, expanding his talents to include writing and directing.

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He guided Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder to box office success Crazy stirring (1980) and directed other films such as comedies Hanky ​​Panky (1982) and the musical Fast forward (In 1985).

Poitier was born in Miami on February 20, 1927. His parents traveled back and forth from Sand Island in the Bahamas to Miami, where they sold tomatoes from their small farm. A complication during his mother’s pregnancy forced her to be hospitalized, where she gave birth prematurely to Poitier.

As a child, Poitier had only two years of formal schooling. Around the age of 11, he became fascinated with movies and as a teenager left for New York City, determined to become an actor. Arriving with almost no money, he worked odd jobs such as porter, bus driver and feather plucking while living in bus stops, toilet stalls and on rooftops overlooking Broadway.

After a stint in the Army and while working as a dishwasher, Poitier responded to a wanted ad placed by the American Black Theater in search of an actor. He auditioned, but his performance, marred by his thick voice, didn’t win him a spot.

He started listening to the radio to perfect his English and auditioned again – and was rejected again – but he convinced the company to hire him as a janitor. He managed to do well in school and became friends with a classmate, Harry Belafonte.

Gradually, Poitier gained acceptance and was rewarded in 1946 with a small role on Broadway in an all-black play. Lysistrata. He continued to do small roles until writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz offered him $750 a week to play a big part in the influential film. No way out (In 1950).

In the first major film to feature a Black actor as a smart professional, Poitier plays a young doctor just starting out who has to deal with a racist patient (Richard Widmark).

His dramatic turn earned him a role as a South African missionary in Cry, dear country (1952), and he went on to break through as one of Richard Brooks’ rebellious high school students. Blackboard foresta stinging look at inner-city education.

Poitier continues to distinguish himself in The edge of the city (1957) opposite John Cassavetes in a rare film about interracial friendship, and he again starred for Brooks in Something of value (1957), in which he played a Kenyan. At the time, critics hailed him as a worthy Oscar contender.

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The following year, Poitier received an Academy Award nomination for best actor for his performance as an escaped criminal opposite Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones. He then played Walter Lee Younger in the film adaptation of Golden light in the sunone of his most in-demand roles (he played it on Broadway, earning a Tony Award nomination), then won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Homer Smith, a traveller who specializes in helping the nuns build a church in the desert, in Lilies of the field.

As a power player, Poitier helped launch First Artists and return as The heat of the night character (currently active out of San Francisco) in They call me Mister Tibbs! (1969) and Organization (In 1971).

Soon after, Poitier signed with Columbia Pictures to star in and produce two films. He teamed up with Belafonte to make the post-Civil War story Buck and the preacher (1972) and began his directorial career. In total, he will direct nine films, running tunes from interracial confrontations to light-hearted comedies and films, including A warm December (1973), Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Let’s do it again (1975), Part of the action (1977) and Ghost father (1990).

For Poitier, the ’70s were a relatively desolate period, a time when economic exploitation was in full force with nimble, street superheroes like John Shaft. Poitier’s serious dramas fell out of fashion, and he retreated to the Bahamas at the turn of the decade to reflect and re-energize.

In 1980, he directed Crazy stirringwent on to become a runaway hit, and reunited with Wilder (and Gilda Radner) to lead Hanky ​​Panky.

He wrote an autobiography in 1980, This lifechronicles his journey from the tomato fields of the Bahamas to the pinnacle of Hollywood success, and directs Fast forward, a musical about young people with big dreams. In essence, it’s a story similar to his real-life story.

After 10 years behind the camera, Poitier reappears as an actor. In Little Nikita (1988), he played an investigator trying to overthrow Russian spies, and in Shoot to kill (1988), he is a city FBI agent who teams up with a reclusive mountain man (Tom Berenger) to pursue a psychopath across the Pacific Northwest.

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He then co-starred with Robert Redford and Dan Aykroyd in Sport shoes (1992) and played the deputy director of the FBI in Wild dog (1997), opposite Bruce Willis.

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Sidney Poitier and hostess Anne Bancroft at the 1964 Academy Awards.
AMPAS / Photofest

On television, Poitier played Nelson Mandela in the 1997 Showtime television series Mandela and de Klerk and narration of the documentary Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey (2001). In 1997, he was appointed ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan.

Following Poitier’s death, Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis announced that the Bahamian flag was being flown at masts in the country as well as at the nation’s various embassies around the globe.

The Prime Minister called Poitier “a great Bahamian, a cultural icon, an actor and film director, a businessman, a civil rights activist and a diplomat” and emphasized his great achievements. of Poitier as well as his personal “strength of courage,” as someone willing to “stand up and be counted.”

He fathered six daughters: Beverly, Pamela, Sherri and Gina (with his first wife Juanita Hardy) and Anika and Sydney (with Joanna Shimkus, whom he married in 1975).

In his 2002 Oscar speech, Poitier reflected on the “brave, unselfish choices made by a handful of visionary American filmmakers, directors, writers, and producers.” shaped his career: “Every [had] strong sense of civic responsibility for the times in which they lived; every [was] unafraid to allow their art to reflect their views and values, ethics and morality, and moreover, acknowledge them as their own. They know the odds are against them, and their efforts are overwhelming and the odds of being overcome are too high.

“Those filmmakers persisted, speaking in their art to the best of us all. And I have benefited from their efforts. The industry benefits from their efforts. America benefits from their efforts. And in ways big and small, the world has benefited too.”

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