The actor who defined acting for an entire generation as well as serving as a role model for ALL African-American actors, Sidney Poitier was the recipient of the 20th AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992.

In night heavy on tributes and dedications, the essence of the man was saluted by a bevy of colleagues and admirers including Harry Belafonte, Tony Curtis, Rod Steiger, Bill Cosby, Louis Gossett, Jr, Denzel Washington and others who all to a person spoke with reverence and respect for incredible achievements. To say that Poitier is a trailblazer would be to ignore that he overcame incredible odds to become the first Black leading man in major motion pictures in 1950.

In 1963, Poitier became the first black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Lilies of the Field. The significance of this achievement was later bolstered in 1967 when he starred in three well-received films—To Sir, with Love; In the Heat of the Night; and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—making him the top box office star of that year. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Poitier among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time, ranking 22nd on the list of 25.

Poitier has directed a number of popular movies such as A Piece of the Action; Uptown Saturday Night, and Let’s Do It Again (with friend Bill Cosby), and Stir Crazy (starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder). In 2002, 38 years after receiving the Best Actor Award, Poitier was chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive an Honorary Award, designated “To Sidney Poitier in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being.” Since 1997 he has been the Bahamian ambassador to Japan. On August 12, 2009, Sidney Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama.

Below are clips from the show.


Denzel Washington


Harry Belafonte


Morgan Freeman


John Singleton


James Earl Jones & Rosa Parks


Rod Steiger


Bill Cosby


Danny Glover


Louis Gossett, Jr.


Tony Curtis


Richard Widmark


Lee Grant


Stanley Kramer


Harry Belafonte sings “Amen”


Sidney Poiter

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