Tributes pour in for groundbreaking actor Sidney Poitier

The Oscar-winning actor helped break down the color barrier in Hollywood.
Tributes to legendary Hollywood icon Sidney Poitier poured in from across the world following the death of the groundbreaking actor and cultural activist.

Poitier, who died Thursday at the age of 94, was the first Black actor to win an Academy Award for best lead performance and the first to be a top box-office draw.

To see him on the big screen during a near 50-year movie career was to see grace and character and strength brought to life.

Poitier got his start in New York theater, but it took work. The son of a tomato farmer from the Bahamas, he was kicked out of his first theater company before he ever got the chance to act.

He was a consummate actor, but it is his history in the civil rights movement for which many will remember him.

Former Congressman Charlie Rangel remembers what it meant to see Poitier playing strong, dignified men on the big screen and how that changed the culture of Hollywood.

Rangel was one of the most powerful men in America for a good portion of his career in politics, conversing with world leaders and often sitting in the Oval Office. But he says when he met Poitier, he became tongue tied and couldn't summon the words to tell him how much it meant to see him change the way African American men were portrayed on the screen.

In 2009, Poitier was awarded the Medal of Freedom by then-President Barack Obama, and the actor seemed -- for just a moment -- overwhelmed by it all. He gave a humble, dignified smile, and the president of the United States embraced him.

Oprah Winfrey called him a "friend, brother, confidant, wisdom teacher." Whoopi Goldberg said the trailblazing actor "showed us how to reach for the stars." Lenny Kravitz said the doors he opened "will continue to make way for those with a dream." Tyler Perry thanked Poitier for "being willing to share YOU to make us all better."

ABC News special report on Sidney Poitier's death:
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Sidney Poitier, the actor who brought a quiet dignity to his characters on screen and helped break down the color barrier in Hollywood, has died.


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"There are no words to convey the deep sense of loss and sadness we are feeling right now. We are so grateful he was able to spend his last day surrounded by his family and friends. To us Sidney Poitier was not only a brilliant actor, activist, and a man of incredible grace and moral fortitude, he was also a devoted and loving husband, a supportive and adoring father, and a man who always put family first. He is our guiding light who lit up our lives with infinite love and wonder. His smile was healing, his hugs the warmest refuge, and his laughter was infectious. We could always turn to him for wisdom and solace and his absence feels like a giant hole in our family and our hearts. Although he is no longer here with us in this realm, his beautiful soul will continue to guide and inspire us. He will live on in us, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren-in every belly laugh, every curious inquiry, every act of compassion and kindness. His legacy will live on in the world, continuing to inspire not only with his incredible body of work, but even more so with his humanity. We would like to extend our deepest appreciation to every single one of you for the outpouring of love from around the world. So many have been touched by our dad's extraordinary life, his unwavering sense of decency and respect for his fellow man. His faith in humanity never faltered, so know that for all the love you've shown him, he loved you back." - Poitier family, in a statement.

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"Jill and I were saddened to learn of the passing of Sidney Poitier, the once-in-a-generation actor and advocate whose work carried so much dignity, power, and grace that it changed the world on and off the big screen. Sidney was more than just one of the finest actors in our history. His iconic performances in films like The Defiant Ones, A Raisin in the Sun, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night held a mirror up to America's racial attitudes in the 1950s and 1960s. With unflinching grandeur and poise - his singular warmth, depth, and stature on-screen - Sidney helped open the hearts of millions and changed the way America saw itself. The son of tomato farmers in the Bahamas, Sidney became the first Black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor - but the trail he blazed extended leaps and bounds beyond his background or profession. He blazed a path for our Nation to follow, and a legacy that touches every part of our society today. Jill and I send our love and prayers to Sidney's wife, Joanna, his daughters, and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. May God bless Sidney Poitier." - President Joe Biden, in a statement.

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"Sidney Poitier is a legend, and his spirit will live on. Growing up, my family was always so proud to watch him break barriers on-screen and off. He didn't just fight for civil rights, he lived it and left the world better than he found it. Rest In Power." - New York City Mayor Eric Adams, on Twitter.

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"For over 80 years, Sidney and I laughed, cried and made as much mischief as we could. He was truly my brother and partner in trying to make this world a little better. He certainly made mine a whole lot better." - Actor Harry Belafonte, in a statement.

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"It was a privilege to call Sidney Poitier my friend. He was a gentle man and opened doors for all of us that had been closed for years. God bless him and his family." - Denzel Washington, in a statement.

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"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." - Oprah Winfrey, on Instagram.

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"Through his groundbreaking roles and singular talent, Sidney Poitier epitomized dignity and grace, revealing the power of movies to bring us closer together. He also opened doors for a generation of actors." - Former President Barack Obama, on Twitter.

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"The grace and class that this man has shown throughout his entire life, the example he set for me, not only as a Black man but as a human being will never be forgotten. ... All I can say is thank you for your life, thank you for your example, and thank you for your incredible gift. But most of all, thank you for being willing to share YOU to make us all better." - Actor and director Tyler Perry, on Facebook.

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"Sidney was my inspiration, my guiding light, my friend." - Actor Morgan Freeman, on Twitter.

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"This is a big one. No words can describe how your work radically shifted my life. The dignity, normalcy, strength, excellence and sheer electricity you brought to your roles showed us that we, as Black folks, mattered!!! It was an honor..." - Actor Viola Davis, on Instagram.

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"If you wanted the sky I would write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand feet high.: To Sir... with Love. Sir Sidney Poitier R.I.P. He showed us how to reach for the stars. - Actor and TV personality Whoopi Goldberg, on Twitter.

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"Sidney Poitier, your last sunset with us is the dawn of many generations rising in the path of light you blazed. We will always hold you in our hearts and forever speak your name. - Actor and director Debbie Allen, on Twitter.

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"One of the greatest actors of his generation. We all have our Poitier era. Growing up in the '70s I'd have to say that maybe 'Uptown Saturday Night' was the first movie I ever watched. ... Rest in peace. And thank you." - Musician Questlove, on Instagram.

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"Few artists have contributed more to the Civil Rights Movement than Sidney Poitier. As an actor, he was determined not to be defined by his race, but he pointedly refused roles that perpetuated negative stereotypes. His charm and grace, both onscreen and off, helped to open hearts and minds as the nation challenged segregation and discrimination." - Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.

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"He single-handedly changed the face of the Leading Man. I had the honor to thank him in person and, in his kindness and grace, he said, "You're a leading man, Lou, because you're a good actor." - Actor Lou Diamond Phillips, on Twitter.

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"Sir #SidneyPoitier, your brilliant light will never dim. The doors you opened and paths you created will continue to make way for those with a dream. You showed the world that with vision and grace, all is possible." - Musician Lenny Kravitz, on Twitter.

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"Sidney Poitier is quite literally the reason why I wanted to become an artist. ... There are very few people that I quake in the presence of. Rest easy, GOAT. " - TV actor Keith Powell, on Twitter.

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