Sidney Poitier: “Everything Changes If You Live Long Enough”

sidney-poitier

Actor Sidney Poitier’s life has been a series of “firsts.” In 1958, he was the first black actor nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor for his role as an escaped convict chained to Tony Curtis in “The Defiant Ones.” And when he won the Best Actor Oscar in 1964, he was not only the first black actor to do so, he remained the only one until 2002.

The youngest of seven children, Sidney Poitier was born three months premature while his Bahamian parents were in Miami to sell tomatoes. Uncertain whether he would survive because of a number of illnesses, his dad purchased a tiny casket, while his mother consulted a palm reader. “The lady took her hand and started speaking to my mother: ‘Don’t worry about your son. He will survive,’ ” Poitier recalled. “And these were her words, she said: ‘He will walk with kings.'”

Sidney Poitier has sworn off alcohol, red meat, milk, sugar, and refers to his occasional scoop of ice cream as ”falling off the wagon.” Poitier eats an omelet made of egg whites to avoid cholesterol and an occasional side dish of broccoli to keep up with his habit of eating vegetables at every meal.

Growing up and moving to the States, when Poitier first heard of acting as a profession, he went for a theater audition. But with his thick island accent, he was immediately rejected. Unmoved, Poitier took a job as a dishwasher and listened daily to let go of his accent and improve his speech.

Poitier has directed a number of films, including A Piece of the Action, Uptown Saturday Night, Let’s Do It Again, with Bill Cosby; Stir Crazy, starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder; and Ghost Dad, also with Cosby. In 2002, thirty-eight years after receiving the Best Actor Award, Poitier was chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive an Academy Honorary Award, in recognition of his “remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being”.

The two-time Academy Award winner turned 90 on Monday, and celebrated the milestone with friends and family, including his wife, Joanna Shimkus, whom he married in 1976, as well as six daughters, Beverly, Pamela, Sherri, Gina, Anika and Sydney. He also has eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Poitier has been a health food and exercise enthusiast for at least 40 years, and it has served him well. At 88, he is 6-foot-3, a little under 200 pounds, trim, and…