Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo/File Photo

Actor Sidney Poitier, who was the first Black winner of the best actor Oscar for his role in "Lilies of the Field" died on Friday at age 94, an official from the Bahamian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, according to Reuters.

Eugene Torchon-Newry, acting director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed Poitier's death.

Poitier created a distinguished film legacy in a single year with three 1967 films at a time when segregation prevailed in much of the United States.

In "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" he played a Black man with a white fiancée and "In the Heat of the Night" he played Virgil Tibbs, a Black police officer confronting racism during a murder investigation. He also played a teacher in a tough London school that year in "To Sir, With Love."

Poitier won his history-making best actor Oscar for "Lilies of the Field" in 1963, playing a handyman who helps German nuns build a chapel in the desert. Five years before that Poitier had been the first Black man nominated for a lead actor Oscar for his role in "The Defiant Ones."

His other classic films of that era included "A Patch of Blue" in 1965 in which his character was befriended by a blind white girl, "The Blackboard Jungle" and "A Raisin in the Sun," which Poitier also performed on Broadway.

Poitier was born in Miami on February 20, 1927, raised on a tomato farm in the Bahamas, and had just one year of formal schooling.

He grew up in the small Bahamian village of Cat Island and in Nassau before he moved to New York at 16, lying about his age to sign up for a short stint in the Army and then working at odd jobs, including dishwasher, while taking acting lessons.

He got his first break as an actor when he met the casting director of the American Negro Theater. He was an understudy in "Days of Our Youth" and took over when the star, Harry Belafonte, who also would become a pioneering Black actor, fell ill.

In all, he acted in more than 50 films and directed nine.

In 1992, Poitier was given the Life Achievement Award by the American Film Institute. In 2002, an honorary Oscar recognized "his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being."

Poitier was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974 and served as the Bahamian ambassador to Japan and to UNESCO, the UN cultural agency. In 2009, Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-US President Barack Obama.

(Israel National News' North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Israel National News articles, however, is Israeli time.)