Sidney Poitier death: Hollywood mourns one of its pioneers

Robert Hundley

A guiding light.
A landmark actor.
An absolute legend.
The best of the best.

There’s no shortage of praise and accolades pouring in Friday after the death of trailblazing actor Sidney Poitier at age 94.

Among those expressing condolences: Morgan Freeman, Viola Davis, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Iger, LeVar Burton, Magic Johnson and Bernice King, daughter of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., to name a few. A couple of former presidents spoke up too, along with heavyweights from the worlds of acting, music and more.

“Sidney was my inspiration, my guiding light, my friend,” Freeman wrote. “Sending love to Joanna and his family.”

“This is a big one. No words can describe how your work radically shifted my life. The dignity, normalcy, strength, excellence and sheer electricity you brought to your roles showed us that we, as Black folks, mattered!!! It was an honor…,” Davis wrote, posting a picture of herself and her husband with Poitier at a lunch at Spago.

“You told us, ‘If your dreams do not scare you, they’re not big enough’!” Davis continued. “I put this quote on my daughter’s wall. Rest well Mr. Poitier. Thank you! Thank you for leaving a legacy. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

“If you wanted the sky i would write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand feet high.. To Sir… with Love,” Goldberg tweeted, referencing the lyrics to the title song of Poitier’s 1967 film. “Sir Sidney Poitier R.I.P. He showed us how to reach for the stars.”

“‘I’m on the porch of our little home on Cat Island in the Bahamas. Evening turns the sky a bright burnt orange. My mother and father fan the smoke from green palm leaves. My sister Teddy takes me in her arms to rock me to sleep,’” director Ava DuVernay wrote, quoting a passage from “The Measure of a Man,” Poitier’s autobiography. “Rest in triumph, Mr. Poitier. Thank you forever.”

“Mr. P was everything to me! My North Star and guiding light,” Burton wrote. “The very personification of elegance, eloquence, effortless grace and humanity, I have admired and emulated him my entire life. Without Sidney Poitier, quite simply, there would be no LeVar Burton.#RIP #OG #MrP”

“Powerful beyond the stage and screen,” King tweeted, posting a May 1968 photo of Poitier participating in the Poor People’s Campaign at “Resurrection City” on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Many others noted his place as a leader in the fight for racial equality. Comic W. Kamau Bell wrote, “He opened every door and blazed every trail for every Black entertainer who followed him. And he did it with grace. And he knew the battle wasn’t just about getting onscreen.”

“Immediately dispelling the perverted, obscene, and misinformed notion of white supremacy in every beautifully human, artistic and dignified way = Sidney Poitier,” Mark Ruffalo tweeted.

“The star of ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’ and ‘Lilies of the Field,’ for which he won Best Actor, was a trailblazer who will be mourned by so many for whom he opened the very doors of Hollywood,” actor George Takei wrote.

Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry praised the actor effusively.

“For me, the greatest of the ‘Great Trees’ has fallen: Sidney Poitier,” TV host and actor Winfrey wrote. “My honor to have loved him as a mentor. Friend. Brother. Confidant. Wisdom teacher. The utmost, highest regard and praise for his most magnificent, gracious, eloquent life. I treasured him. I adored him. He had an enormous soul I will forever cherish. Blessings to Joanna and his world of beautiful daughters.”

“Around this time last year Cicely Tyson was releasing her book and promoting it. I had no idea she would pass away shortly thereafter. Now, to wake up this morning to a call that Sidney Poitier has passed away… all I can tell you is that my heart broke in another place,” filmmaker and actor Perry wrote. “The grace and class that this man has shown throughout his entire life, the example he set for me, not only as a black man but as a human being will never be forgotten. There is no man in this business who has been more of a North Star for me than Sidney Poitier.”

Actor and filmmaker Denzel Washington said in a statement, “It was a privilege to call Sidney Poitier my friend. He was a gentle man and opened doors for all of us that had been closed for years. God bless him and his family.”

“Sidney was not just a great actor, he was a civil rights giant and a dedicated humanitarian,” actor-director Robert Redford said in a statement. “We developed a friendship when we worked together. I appreciated his kindness, elegance and his sense of humor.”

“Gutted. again. Lost another royal. Sir Poitier had no peer, and we’ll never see his like again. He was the standard bearer for generations of actors/directors who came after him,” actor Don Cheadle said in a statement.

“The last time I saw Sidney was at a golf course in LA. I saw him across the room and walked toward him with my hand out to shake his. Ignoring my hand, he opened both of his arms wide and embraced me warmly. Then he let me go and held me at arm’s length staring me in my eyes and said in his signature cadence, ‘I dig what you do, my man.’ I almost fainted,” Cheadle said. “He told me to keep it up and keep representing us. I told him I would do my best and that he was irreplaceable. We were so blessed to have him for as long as we did, and he will be sorely and surely missed.”

“My dear Sidney, an enormous part of my soul weeps at your passing. In your ninety-four years on this planet, you left an indelible mark with your extraordinary talent, paving the way for Black people to be seen and heard in the fullness of who we are,” actor Halle Berry wrote in a series of tweets. “You were an iconic trailblazer; yours was a life well lived.

“I grew up idolizing you and will always remember the day when I first met you,” she continued. “It is the only time in my life when I’ve been rendered speechless! There I sat, with my words glued together, and you were as gracious and charming then as you would be during our decades of friendship to follow. Rest in peace, beloved Sidney. You are and always will be the true measure of a man.”

Motown founder Berry Gordy sent out a statement that read, “Today, the world has lost an icon, and I have lost one of my dearest friends, the great Sidney Poitier. He was a man of grace, integrity and someone I long admired. He is in a class by himself. He adored his family and friends, and my condolences go out to his incredible wife, Joanna, and his beautiful girls.”

Politicians also weighed in, including former President Obama, former President Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Through his groundbreaking roles and singular talent, Sidney Poitier epitomized dignity and grace, revealing the power of movies to bring us closer together,” Obama wrote. “He also opened doors for a generation of actors. Michelle and I send our love to his family and legion of fans.”

Bill Clinton wrote, “Sidney Poitier changed Hollywood, America, & the world forever through his many unforgettable performances, & through the strength, grace, & dignity he radiated both on screen and off. I’ll always be deeply grateful that I had the chance to spend time with him through the years.”

Hillary Clinton wrote, “We were all so lucky to share a culture with Sidney Poitier, and benefit from his hand in shaping it.”

“Sidney Poitier was a unique man. An award-winning actor, a mentor, and someone who moved through life with elegance and class. I was honored to know him and his wife Joanna and to watch him move through his life,” former first lady of California Maria Shriver wrote, adding, “Sidney touched the lives of so many. My prayers are with his beautiful family at this private moment.

Some actors mentioned the role he played in their professional development, with Paul Wesley noting that he had read Poitier’s autobiography years ago “and it was quite the inspiration.”

“Your work has inspired many young actors that it is possible to dream and that those dreams can come true. My self included,” actor Kirk Acevedo wrote. “The first monologue I ever did was from ‘A Raisin In The Sun’ to get into High School Of The Performing Arts. THANK YOU.”

“In this moment, words are insufficient. But it must be said that I am filled with profound humility & gratitude that you allowed me into your life and inner circle of family and friends over the many years,” actor Blair Underwood wrote, posting a photo of himself and Poitier on Instagram.

And at least one person was angry on top of her grief.

“So this our new normal, huh? Every week we’ll be losing a legend?! This is what it is now?! Dammit! I hate this,” comic and TV host Yvette Nicole Brown wrote. “And yes, I know 94 is a long life but I’m sad, okay? I wanted him and @IAmCicelyTyson and @BettyMWhite & #GarryMarshall and #MamaFran here forever.”

Keep reading for more reactions from Hollywood and beyond.

“Sidney Poitier was full of grace in every aspect of his life .. He opened doors with a BOOM that came from his gentle soul RIP.” — actor Henry Winkler

“#SidneyPoitier, your last sunset with us is the dawn of many generations rising in the path of light you blazed. We will always hold you in our hearts and forever speak your name.” — choreographer and actor Debbie Allen

“What a landmark actor. One of a kind. What a beautiful, gracious, warm, genuinely regal man. RIP, Sir. With love.” — actor Jeffrey Wright

“To be in the presence of Sidney Poitier was to be in the presence of grace, dignity, and humanity. And a pretty great actor too. R.I.P.” — director Rob Reiner

“He once caught me following him. He said ‘little girl what do you want’ I muttered ‘can I have your autograph’. From that day he always called me little girl and asked if I wanted his autograph. It was something we laughed about. He was my hero & great friend. May he RIP.” — singer Dionne Warwick

“Sidney Poitier was an absolute vanguard. His work touched so many lives, and his legacy will endure. Rest well, sir.” — actor Lynda Carter

“You have been & will continue to be the greatest inspiration of my career. Your distinguished presence, dignity, strength & courage have inspired all that I aspire to be as a man, a human being, creative artist. Thank you & may you rest in infinite power, Sir Sidney Poitier.” — actor Giancarlo Esposito

“Today we lost a legend. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Sidney Poitier. As a long time fan, I cherished hearing his incredible stories of how he changed perceptions in Hollywood. His incredible performances are filled with dignity, strength, truth and deep humanity.” — actor-filmmaker Reese Witherspoon

“Thank God for the life of Mr. Sidney Poitier! In a time of great racial strife in our country, he gently changed the world with his kindness, dignity, and integrity. Thank you Mr. Poitier for a life well-lived. Rest, Good and faithful servant. Rest!” — actor Courtney B. Vance

“Poitier was a trailblazing thespian and staunch civil rights activist that remained true to his principles. His art reflected his convictions. Because of that, the world reimagined Black culture during a transformative period that challenged racial prejudice and social norms. On stage, screen, and in real life, Poitier reflected a myriad of stories that illustrated the multi-faceted aspects of the African Diasporic life. He had a way of portraying characters that transported ‘race films’ and ‘Blaxploitation’ genres beyond integration to classic stories of empowerment across generations.” — National Civil Rights Museum

“Devastated to lose the towering Sidney Poitier. Maybe the nicest, most down to earth legends I have ever known. My prayers to his family.” — actor Rob Lowe

“It was an honor and unimaginable opportunity to make Sidney Poitier laugh. Thinking about Joanna and the kids today.” — comic Kathy Griffin

“Realized talking with my daughter, 11, who has enjoyed several of his Sidney Poitier’s films, that she will never see him in the same astounding context that we did coming up in the 1960s. Amid the unrelenting whiteness of American film, his talent and presence was shattering.” — writer-producer David Simon

“Poitier was barrier-breaking and an enduring inspiration who advanced US racial dialogue through his art. Few movie stars have had or will have the influence Poitier had both on and off screen.” — Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

“An undeniable presence both on-screen and off, Sidney Poitier inspired generations with his talent, his grace, and his unrelenting commitment to justice and equality.” — Apple CEO Tim Cook

“We lost an elegant King today. Thank you Sidney Poitier. For not only opening the door, but for walking in this world with endless grace and excellence, so that today, still, we follow behind you, reaching toward the example that you set.” — actor Kerry Washington

“SADDENED BY THE LOSS OF ICON LEGEND SIDNEY POITIER – a favorite of my father who first made me aware of him – ONE OF THE GREATS – COMPASIONATE DIGNITY HUMANITY and much Warmth – met him several times – RIP MR TIBBS condolences to family and friends.” — actor Robert Davi

President Barack Obama with Sidney Poitier in Aug. 12, 2009.

Former President Barack Obama presents the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Sidney Poitier on Aug. 12, 2009.

(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

“We are deeply saddened by the news of trailblazer, humanitarian, and cultural icon Sidney Poitier’s passing. May his memory be a blessing. ‘In my case, the body of work stands for itself… I think my work has been representative of me as a man.’” — Congressional Black Caucus

“Sidney Poitier was a brilliant and dignified actor who broke the ceiling for many actors of color that followed in his footsteps. Blessed by a long life, he remains a most respected, admired, accomplished actor by his industry peers. My parents met him at an event I took them to where Sidney was being honored. My mom grabbed him, hugged him and told him what a big fan she was, how much she loved him and how gorgeous she thought he was! In true Poitier fashion, he responded with the utmost elegance and charm. Sidney you will long be remembered by your fans around the world! On behalf of his union, my deepest condolences to his family over this profound loss.” — SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher

“Sidney Poitier. An absolute legend. One of the greats.” — actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt

“Sidney Poitier – best of the best RIP.” — actor Mia Farrow

“Sir #SidneyPoitier, your brilliant light will never dim. The doors you opened and paths you created will continue to make way for those with a dream. You showed the world that with vision and grace, all is possible.” — actor and musician Lenny Kravitz

“Your excellence will always be the benchmark. Rest in divine peace, Bahamian King. My love and condolences go out to your beautiful family. #SidneyPoitier.” — Kravitz

“When he answered an ad for actors, as an illiterate young man, the theatre owner sneered: ‘Go be a dishwasher.’ Sidney already was a dishwasher. Stung by the jibe, he vowed to prove him wrong. He became the first black man to win the Best Actor Oscar.” — TV presenter Piers Morgan

“RIP #SidneyPoitier A consistent and extraordinary example of talent, grace and elegance.” — musician Richard Marx

Sidney Poitier attends the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in West Hollywood

Sidney Poitier attends Vanity Fair’s 2014 Oscar party in West Hollywood.

(Larry Busacca / VF14/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

“Nuance and power, humour and grit — Sidney Poitier had it all. Imagine what it meant to see him on the big screen in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Every word, every gesture was an inspiration.” — Toronto International Film Festival CEO Cameron Bailey

“I once had the honor to shake Sidney Poitier’s hand. May he Rest in Power knowing he was loved and trailblazer in our industry who lit up the screen with his talent.” — actor Cary Elwes

“My condolences to Sidney Poitier’s family A wonderful, great man, Will always be remembered.” — singer Diana Ross

“Sidney Poitier was an exceptional artist and an extraordinary human being who created change and influence with grace and courage. It was a thrill to have him join in celebrating my 87th birthday and arts fundraising event. Truly one of a kind and he will be missed.” — singer Tony Bennett

“Rest with the ancestors and greats the extraordinary Sidney Poitier. 94 years well lived and legacy that will remain for all time.” — singer Jody Watley

“Sidney Poitier was a man of immense style and substance. We’ve lost a true pioneer.” — actor-comic Jackée Harry

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