Sidney Poitier Fast Facts

CNN  — 

Here is a look at the life of Sidney Poitier, award winning actor and civil rights activist.


Birth date: February 20, 1927

Death date: January 6, 2022

Birth place: Miami, Florida

Birth name: Sidney Poitier

Father: Reginald Poitier, tomato farmer

Mother: Evelyn (Outten) Poitier

Marriages: Joanna Shimkus (January 23, 1976-January 6, 2022, his death); Juanita Marie Hardy (April 29, 1950-July 9, 1965, divorced)

Children: with Joanna Shimkus: Sydney and Anika; with Juanita Marie Hardy: Gina, Sherri, Pamela and Beverly

Other Facts

Nominated for two Academy Awards and won one. Also received an honorary Oscar.

Nominated for two Grammy Awards and won one.

Nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards.

Grew up on Cat Island in the Bahamas. The family later moved to Nassau. His parents sent him to live with relatives in Miami at age 14. After an encounter with the Ku Klux Klan, he left Miami at age 16 and moved to New York.

Lying about his age, he joined the Army at age 16. He feigned insanity to obtain a discharge after nine months, and later admitted the ruse in his book, “The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography.”

A heavy Bahamian accent and limited reading ability cost him an acting job at Harlem’s American Negro Theater. He overcame the accent by imitating radio announcers and improved his reading skills by studying newspapers.

Had dual citizenship in the United States and the Bahamas.


1946 - First audition after losing his accent earns him the role of understudy to Harry Belafonte in “Days of Our Youth.”

1950 - Film debut in “No Way Out.”

1959 - First African-American to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for “The Defiant Ones.”

August 28, 1963 - One of many Hollywood celebrities in attendance at the March on Washington.

1964 - Wins Academy Award for Best Actor for “Lilies of the Field.” He is the first African-American to win for Best Actor and only the second to ever win an Academy Award. Hattie McDaniel was the first; she won Best Supporting Actress for “Gone with the Wind.”

1967 - Stars in three of the highest-grossing films of the year, “In the Heat of the Night,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “To Sir, with Love.”

August 14, 1967 - Keynote speaker at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta.

1980 - His autobiography, “This Life” is published.

1983 - Nineteen-year-old David Hampton pretends to be Poitier’s son and convinces wealthy New Yorkers to provide him with food, clothing, money and a place to stay. Hampton is charged with grand larceny when his lies are discovered. “Six Degrees of Separation,” a stage play in 1990 and a movie in 1993, is based on the story.

1995 - Receives the Kennedy Center Honors.

1997-2007 - Bahamian ambassador to Japan.

2000 - His second autobiography, “The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography” is published.

February 21, 2001 - Wins the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for “The Measure Of A Man.”

2002 - Receives an honorary Academy Award “in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being.”

2006 - Receives the Marian Anderson Award in recognition of his humanitarian and diplomatic work and the Cunard Britannia Award for Lifetime Contribution to International film from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

2008 - “Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter” is published.

July 30, 2009 - Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

May 7, 2013 - His sci-fi book, “Montaro Caine” is published.

February 14, 2016 - Poitier receives the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Fellowship, its highest honor.

January 25, 2021 - Arizona State University announces it has renamed its film school the Sidney Poitier New American Film School in honor of Poitier’s legacy.

January 6, 2022 - Poitier dies at age 94.