Sidney Poitier Tributes Pour in From Hollywood: ‘What a Landmark Actor’

“He showed us how to reach for the stars,” Whoopi Goldberg writes

sidney poitier
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Sidney Poitier is being remembered Friday as “an absolute legend” — and so much more — in (and by) the Hollywood acting community.

“What a landmark actor. One of a kind,” Jeffrey Wright, the star of HBO’s “Westworld,” posted in his Twitter tribute. “What a beautiful, gracious, warm, genuinely regal man.”

“He showed us how to reach for the stars,” Whoopi Goldberg wrote.

“Icon. Iconoclast. Barrier breaker. Pioneer. Hero. Legend. All time great,” Josh Gad tweeted. “Goodbye to one of the most important and extraordinary Actors in the history of our industry. Thank you for shattering glass ceilings and paving new roads.”

We’ve compiled some of these earliest reactions from Hollywood below and will update with more as they roll in.

Poitier, the pioneering actor and director who became the first bankable Black leading man in Hollywood, died at age 94, according to the Bahamian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Poitier, who was born in the U.S. but grew up in the Bahamas, broke multiple racial barriers in his decades-long career, including when he became the first Black actor to win the Academy Award, for his role in 1963’s “Lilies of the Field.”

Hollywood stars are celebrating his work in films such as “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” both Best Picture nominees from 1967.

“One of the greatest actors of all time. His ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ will always be on my top 10 film list. His line, ‘They call me Mr. Tibbs!’ heralded in Black Power in a definitive, permanent way. It sends a thrill through my bones every time I see it,” Stevie Van Zandt said in a tweet.

But the Bahamian actor also had a presence across Hollywood, serving as a former Walt Disney Co. board member and earning a tribute from Bob Iger on Friday.

“Sidney Poitier was the most dignified man I’ve ever met. Towering…gentle…passionate…bold…kind…altogether special,” Iger wrote.

From his first film performance, playing a doctor who treats a bigoted white man in 1950’s “No Way Out,” he blazed a trail by refusing to play roles that traded on racial stereotypes. He followed his debut film by playing a minister in 1951’s “Cry, the Beloved Country,” set in apartheid-era South Africa, and then an angsty high schooler in 1954’s “The Blackboard Jungle.”

Poitier picked up his first Oscar nomination for 1959’s “The Defiant Ones,” starring with Tony Curtis as two escaped criminals who must work together to elude the authorities. Four years later, he made history by taking home the Best Actor trophy for “Lilies of the Field,” starring as a former GI who helps a group of Catholic nuns build a new chapel.

See more reactions to Poitier’s passing below:

“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

“Throughout his seven-decade career, legendary multi-hyphenate Sidney Poitier toppled numerous barriers with vigor and grace. His 1980 feature ‘Stir Crazy’ was the first movie directed by an African American to gross more than $100 million in North America. Poitier was a member of the Guild’s Eastern Directors Council in the 1970s. The DGA African American Steering Committee honored Poitier for his many contributions in 2001.”

The Directors Guild of America