The comedy industry and the entire world just lost a total icon: Sidney Poitier passed away on Friday, January 7, at the age of 94. In honor of the revolutionary comedic figure, let's take a look back at some of his most significant accomplishments - and how he paved the way for the Black comedians who came after.
"I go in front of a camera with a responsibility to be at least respectful of certain values," the late Poitier once told the Museum of Living History. "My values are not disconnected from the values of the Black community." And Sidney proved his commitment time and time again - from creating ground-breaking roles for Black actors to being an activist in the Civil Rights movement, the actor/director insisted on changing the white-dominated Hollywood industry. And he certainly made waves: Poitier became the first Black man to win the Best Actor Oscar for 1963's Lilies of the Field and was previously nominated for the award in 1959 for A Raisin in the Sun.
Throughout his time on the big screen, Sidney took on roles that looked critically at race and class. But it turned out that the man was just getting started: the actor also took a turn behind the camera. And the result was a multi-million dollar grossing movie. 1980's Stir Crazy was the first R-rated comedy by a Black director to reach over $100 million in the box office. "Blacks are going to have to keep making our own films, not rely on whites to champion our dreams," he told PEOPLE back when Stir Crazy first made waves in the cinematic world.
Since his passing, countless stars have taken to social media and honored the late director. "For me, the greatest of the 'Great Trees' has fallen: Sidney Poitier," Oprah said. "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."
And as will the rest of us.