Sidney Poitier – the first black actor to win an Oscar for Best Actor – passed away at the age of 94.
Clint Watson, the press secretary for the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, confirmed Poitier’s death while speaking to PEOPLE on Friday.
Poitier, who broke racial barriers and became one of the most celebrated actors in Hollywood history, died in the Bahamas on Thursday evening.
The cause of his death is yet to be revealed.
After winning the Oscar for his role in Lilies of the Field in 1963, the actor, director, and activist would go on to inspire future generations of actors.
He was acclaimed for his performances in classics such as Patch of Blue, To Sir, With Love, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and rejected roles based on offensive racial stereotypes.
If you wanted the sky i would write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand feet high..
To Sir… with Love
Sir Sidney Poitier R.I.P.
He showed us how to reach for the stars
— Whoopi Goldberg (@WhoopiGoldberg) January 7, 2022
“I felt very much as if I were representing 15, 18 million people with every movie I made,” he once wrote about his experience as the only black person on a movie set.
Tributes from Barack Obama, Will Smith, Morgan Freeman, and Whoopi Goldberg are among the multitude that have emerged on social media.
Through his groundbreaking roles and singular talent, Sidney Poitier epitomized dignity and grace, revealing the power of movies to bring us closer together. He also opened doors for a generation of actors. Michelle and I send our love to his family and legion of fans. pic.twitter.com/zkYKFSxfKA
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 7, 2022
“Though his groundbreaking roles and singular talent, Sidney Poitier epitomised dignity and grace, revealing the power of movies to bring us closer together,” Obama wrote.
“An icon, legend, visionary, and true pioneer,” Will Smith wrote in a tribute on Instagram, accompanied by a series of photos of the pair.
“Thank you Sidney Poitier for breaking down barriers, creating the path and making it possible for there to be a Will Smith!
“Your legacy is eternal. Rest In Power.”
Aussie actor Hugh Jackman shared an undated throwback photo of Poitier surrounded by A-list Hollywood stars, including Jackman, Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Streisand, and John Travolta, at an intimate dinner.
“It was here, with this amazing group of friends, that Deb and I met the exceptionally kind hearted, smart, cheeky Sidney Poitier. A life well lived. A man well loved,” Jackman wrote.
Publicist Mara Buxbaum issued a statement to PEOPLE on behalf of Poitier’s family, who described him as “a man of incredible grace”, as well as a “devoted and loving husband and adoring father”.
“There are no words to convey the deep sense of loss and sadness we are feeling right now. We are so grateful he was able to spend his last day surrounded by his family and friends,” the statement began.
“To us Sidney Poitier was not only a brilliant actor, activist and man of incredible grace and moral fortitude, he was also a devoted and loving husband and adoring father, a man who always put family first.
“He is our guiding light who lit up our lives with infinite love and wonder. His smile was healing, his hugs the warmest of refuge, and his laughter was infectious. We could always turn to him for wisdom and solace and his absence feels like a giant hole in our family and our hearts,” the statement continued.
“Although he is no longer here with us in this realm, his beautiful soul will continue to guide and inspire us. He will live on in us, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren – in every belly laugh, every curious inquiry, every act of compassion and kindness. His legacy will live on in the world, continuing to inspire not only with his incredible body of work, but even more so with his humanity.”
The family added: “We would like to extend our deepest appreciation to every single one of you for the outpouring of love from around the world. So many have been touched by our dad’s extraordinary life, his unwavering sense of decency and respect for his fellow man. His faith in humanity never faltered, so know that for all the love you’ve shown him, he loved you back.”
Poitier is survived by his wife Joanna Shimkus and his five daughters: Beverly, Pamela, Sherri, Anika and Sydney.
Image: Getty Images
This article first appeared on OverSixty.