Over his six-decade career, Sidney Poitier, the first Black man to win an Oscar, is credited with opening doors for numerous other Black performers.
After his death on January 6, ’94, tributes to the icon poured in. Former President Barack Obama called Sidney a “unique talent who exemplified dignity and grace.”
“He was a compassionate man and opened doors for all of us that had been closed for years,” a friend later added. Denzel Washington, Sidney’s co-star, described it as a privilege.
Sidney Poitier received his first leading role in the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle, and he went on to appear in 55 other films and television shows. He will be remembered for breaking down racial barriers in Hollywood.
In 1976, the Bahamian-American actor married Canadian actress Joanna Shimkus, and as the saying goes, “no man succeeds without a good lady by his side.”
When he first met Shimkus, he had already been married, had four children, and was having an affair.
Poitier, the youngest of seven children, grew up on Cat Island in the Bahamas, where his father ran a farm. He lived there for the first ten years of his life. Poitier unexpectedly arrived three months early, earning him US citizenship. The family would fly to Miami to sell their products.
He first settled in Nassau, the Bahamas’ capital, before moving to America at age 15 and enlisting in the military as a teen while lying about his age.
After leaving the army, he worked as a dishwasher before landing a role with the American Negro Theatre in Harlem, New York. It was the aspiring actor’s second audition after his first. When he was 18 years old, he was told he “could hardly read” and couldn’t be an actor because of his accent.
Despite the harsh rejection, he persisted, purchasing a radio to imitate the accents he heard, reading every newspaper and magazine he could get his hands on, and enlisting the assistance of an elderly Jewish waiter at the restaurant where he worked as a dishwasher to help him read and expand his vocabulary.
After a year and a half, he returned to the production company for another audition, which resulted in him being cast on the show and launching a career that would earn him numerous accolades.
He first appeared on our screens more than ten years ago and won his first Academy Award for the film “Lilies of the Field” ten years later.
His role in “The Lost Man,” where he first met Joanna Shimkus, may have been his most significant.
The film was released in 1969, four years after Poitier and his first wife, Juanita Hardy, divorced.
It was also the year after his nine-year relationship with actress Diahann Carroll ended.
The first marriage of Juanita Hardy and Sidney lasted 15 years. Their marriage occurred in 1950, and their divorce occurred in 1965. On the other hand, his marriage to Joanna Shimkus lasted, and the couple had two daughters.
“I suppose we were destined to be [together],” Joanna explained in 1998.
Between 1972 and 2010, Shimkus took a break from acting to raise their daughters Anika and Sidney, who have followed in their parent’s footsteps.
Shimkus was an executive producer on “Black Irish,” which Anika directed. Meanwhile, Sidney has appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof” and “Veronica Mars.”
In an interview, Poitier said, “One key ingredient my wife has helped me recognize over the years is the importance of articulating love for one another daily.”
“My wife and my children mean the most to me,” Sidney told People in 2016, while Shimkus added another detail to making their relationship last: “We’ve been together 49 years, and I’m a good cook. Every night, I cook. I take excellent care of him.”
He received an honorary Academy Award for his contributions to the entertainment industry, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a knighthood from the Queen. Still, despite all of his achievements, he never forgot the importance of family.
The celebrated actor would frequently spend time with his wife, ex-wife, six daughters, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
Many examples of couples navigating an interracial relationship can be found throughout history.
However, according to Joanna, it was not an issue for her and her husband.
“I grew up in Canada and never really had any kind of prejudice — unlike America. I just didn’t have those feelings. We’ve never had a problem. It’s possible that we live a very quiet life. I’m not sure if it’s just the way things are. But I never thought of him as a Black man. I know he’s Black, but I saw him as a man, and he was a great guy. “A wonderful person,” she said in the documentary Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light.
Sidney Poitier, rest in peace. You will be remembered in people’s hearts worldwide for your talent, grace, and perseverance in facing adversity.
Please spread the word.