Live Updates: Sidney Poitier, a Trailblazing Black Star, Is Remembered

The New York Times has been chronicling the life of Sidney Poitier, the pioneering actor who died at the age of 94, for decades. An archive of some of the stories we’ve covered throughout the years is presented here for your enjoyment.

In 1959, on the 25th of January

The Times reported in 1959 that “bigotry — and poverty — were Poitier’s lot in adolescence.”

His initial tryout for the American Negro Theater was unsuccessful. His West Indian accent made it impossible to understand him as he tried to read the script. In order to improve his pronunciation, he got a radio and listened for hours on end. As a result, he was able to learn to read through newspapers and magazines.

In the end, the theatre decided to employ him.

The 15th of April, 1964

When his name was shouted, “I guess I sprang six feet from my seat,” said Mr. Poitier after he won an Oscar for best actor in “Lilies of the Field” in 1964, according to The Times. “It’s your call whether or not to call it a surprise.”

When asked how he reached “the height of stardom,” he told The Times:

For me, the key to long-term success has always been to focus on my inner self.” In the end, that is more essential than the external self. I aspired to be a worthwhile person in my own eyes. At the end of the day, I wanted to please myself. I also felt that way while I was on stage.”

The 28th of February, 1989

Mr. Poitier looked back on his career twenty-five years later and was pleased with how it had evolved.

Among his film roles by 1989 were “Blackboard Jungle” student Walter Lee Younger (a part he originated on Broadway), “To Sir, With Love” educator, “A Raisin in the Sun” restless, dissatisfied Walter Lee Younger (a role he developed on Broadway), and “In the Heat of the Night” detective Virgil Tibbs.

For many Black Americans, “the most memorable and lasting of those roles expressed an underlying faith in the country’s institutions, coupled with dissatisfaction and wrath directed at those same institutions,” the New York Times said.

This is a different time in history,” he remarked. In those days when I was the only one here—no Bill Cosby, no Eddie Murphy, and no Denzel Washington—I was carrying the ambitions and aspirations of an entire people. When it came to the subject of the picture, I had no influence whatsoever, and my only option was to refuse to do it, which I frequently did.”

It was imperative that I cater to a wide range of admirers, including action enthusiasts, romantics, and intellectuals. “It was a tremendous load,” he said.

It was on this day in the year 2000 that

As a 73-year-old, Mr. Poitier had renounced alcohol, red meat, milk, and sugar, calling an odd scoop of ice cream “falling off the waggon,” according to the New York Times Magazine.

Six-foot-three and weighing a svelte 200 pounds, “he still has the brilliant smile that launched his career more than five decades ago,” according to the New York Times.