By Tim Gray

Poitier’s legacy in film history is that of an icon: Many of his most memorable roles dealt with race in mainstream Hollywood films before others opted to do so. One biographer dubbed him the “Martin Luther King of the movies.”

Sidney Poitier — who turns 94 on Feb. 20 — has received virtually every showbiz award possible: An Oscar, Grammy, Golden Globe, plus Life Achievement Awards from AFI, BAFTA, NAACP Image Awards, SAG and Kennedy Center Honors, to name a few.

Though the kudos have been plentiful, they aren’t enough to convey the depth of his lasting impact on the entertainment industry, starting with being the first Black winner of best actor Oscar for the 1963 film “Lilies of the Field.”

The film industry’s lack of diversity is still an issue in the 21st century. But diversity was nearly non-existent when Poitier made his film debut in the 1950 “No Way Out.” There had been other Black actors in lead film roles, including James Edwards and Harry Belafonte, but they were extremely rare.

And Poitier captured the public imagination like no one before him, with his soft but powerful voice (with that slight, unidentifiable accent from the Bahamas) and, crucially, his integrity.

Poitier was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993 when he was 66 years old. The actor successfully treated his disease with surgery, a common treatment path for prostate cancer. This disease can also be treated with radiation, hormone therapy, and chemotherapy.

As news events frequently remind us, racial equality is still an ongoing struggle, even after all these years. But Sidney Poitier made a difference. He’s still a reminder of what people — and Hollywood — are capable of.

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