Sidney Poitier’s Official Cause of Death Has Been Revealed—He Had Been ‘Ailing For a While’

Sidney Poitier
Photo: AP Images.

Since he passed, fans have wondered how Sidney Poitier died and what caused his death. Poitier, who became the first Black man to win the Oscar for Best actor in 1964, died on the evening of January 6, 2022, at 94 years old.

Poitier was born on February 20, 1927, in Miami, Florida. He was the youngest of seven children. His parents, Evelyn Outten and Reginald James Poitier, were farmers in the Bahamas and owned a farm on Cat Island, which they would often travel from to Miami to sell tomatoes and other produce. Poitier was born unexpectedly in Miami two months premature while his parents were visiting. He remained in Miami for three months before he became healthy enough to come back with his parents to the Bahamas, where he was raised.

When Poitier was 15 years old, he was sent to Miami to live his brother. At 16 years old, he moved to New York City, where he worked as a waiter before he enlisted in the army. After the army, Poitier auditioned for a role with the American Negro Theater, which he won. After the production, Poitier was cast as the lead in Broadway’s Lysistrata before his breakout role as Gregory W. Miller in the 1955 movie Blackboard Jungle. After Blackboard Jungle, Poitier went on to star in movies like Porgy and Bess, A Raisin in the Sun, To Sir, with Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night. In 1964, he became the first Black man to win the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in the 1963 movies, Lilies of the Field.

Throughout his career, Poitier received two more Oscar nominations, 10 Golden Globe nominations, two Emmy nominations, six BAFTA nominations and one Screen Actors Guild nomination. He was the oldest surviving male Academy Award winner until his death in 2022. In a 1967 interview, Poitier confirmed that his roles throughout his career were “clear” choices. “It’s a choice, a clear choice,” he said via The New York Times. “If the fabric of the society were different, I would scream to high heaven to play villains and to deal with different images of Negro life that would be more dimensional. But I’ll be damned if I do that at this stage of the game.”

There’s no doubt Poitier will be missed by millions in Hollywood and across the world. So how did Sidney Poitier die? Read on for what’s been reported so far about how Sidney Poitier died and what caused his death.

How did Sidney Poitier die? 

Sidney Poitier

Image: Courtesy of Everett Collection.

How did Sidney Poitier die? Poitier died at his home in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, on the evening of January 6, 2022. He was 94 years old. “For over 80 years, Sidney and I laughed, cried and made as much mischief as we could,” Poitier’s friend and fellow actor Harry Belafonte said in a statement at the time. “He was truly my brother and partner in trying to make this world a little better. He certainly made mine a whole lot better.”

Chester Cooper, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Bahamas (where Poitier was raised), also said in a statement at the time that he’s “conflicted with great sadness and a sense of celebration” he learned of Poitier’s death. “Sadness that he would no longer be here to tell him how much he means to us, but celebration that he did so much to show the world that those from the humblest beginnings can change the world and that we gave him his flowers while he was with us,” the statement read.

Oprah Winfrey, a longtime friend of Poitier, also reacted to his death in a statement to Oprah Daily. “For me, the greatest of the ‘Great Trees’ has fallen: Sidney Poitier. 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. Blessings to Joanna and his world of beautiful daughters,” she said.

Former President Barack Obama—who awarded Poitier with the the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, for his artistic and humanitarian achievements, in 2009—also issued a statement about the actor’s death. “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. Michelle and I send our love to his family and legion of fans,” Obama tweeted a photo of him, his wife, Michelle Obama, and Poitier in the White House’s Oval Office in 2009.

Current President Joe Biden also reacted to Poitier’s death in a statement, where he called the star a “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.” In the statement released by the White House, Biden went on to declare that Poitier “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.”

What was Sidney Poitier’s cause of death?

Sidney Poitier 1 Sidney Poitiers Official Cause of Death Has Been Revealed—He Had Been Ailing For a While

Image: Courtesy of Everett Collection.

What was Sidney Poitier’s cause of death? Poitier’s cause of death was a combination of heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer, according to a death certificate obtained by TMZ. According to the certificate, Poitier’s death was reported to the coroner’s office, but a biopsy and autopsy weren’t performed. The certificate also listed Poitier’s occupation as an actor for 76 years and showed that he served in the armed forces. Poitier had also been “ailing for a while,” according to a statement to Forbes from Clint Watson, press secretary for the Prime Minister of the Bahamas.

Poitier’s death comes after he survived prostate cancer more than 20 years ago. Poitier was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993 when he was 63 years old, according to Survivornet.com, which reported that he successfully treated the disease with surgery, a common treatment for prostate cancer. (Other common treatments are radiation, hormone therapy and chemotherapy.) In an interview with Vanity Fair in 2007, Poitier revealed that one of the “happiest” moments of his life was when he beat prostate cancer. “I was happiest making films, writing books, and surviving prostate cancer,” he said.

An alleged source close to Poitier also told the National Enquirer in 2016 that Poitier’s health was on the decline after he was photographed with a bandage around his head and in a wheel chair at his 89th birthday party at a restaurant in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, at the time. “I’m told it was all bittersweet,” the insider said. “Age has taken a terrible toll on him, and you just have to wonder if this is his last birthday celebration.” The source continued, “He’s no longer the vibrant Hollywood star he once was. Sadly, you can tell that just by watching him. Right now, we’re all praying for him.”

According to the magazine, Poitier suffered a fall three years prior, which left him with his head bandaged and in a wheelchair, with his friends and family taking care of him. “He hit his head quite badly and everyone was worried he had a serious concussion or some serious brain injury,” the source said. “Poor circulation in his legs and severe back problems have plagued him for years. His family is terrified he’ll trip and fall again and sustain a life-threatening injury.” The insider continued, “Listen, everybody is worried about Sidney. He’s one of the few Hollywood legends left and we don’t want to lose him. Right now, we’re taking it one day at a time with him. The rest is up to God!”

"The Measure of a Man" by Sidney Poitier

Image: Courtesy of HarperSanFrancisco.

The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography by Sidney Poitier

For more about Sidney Poitier, read his 2007 autobiography, The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography. The New York Times best seller looks back on the Oscar winner’s life and career, from his childhood on the tiny Cat Island of the Bahamas to his roles in movies like A Raisin in the Sun and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? “In the kind of place where I grew up,” Poitie writes in The Measure of a Man. “What’s coming at you is the sound of the sea and the smell of the wind and momma’s voice and the voice of your dad and the craziness of your brothers and sisters…and that’s it.” The book—which explores the measures that make Poitier a man, husband, father and an actor—also sees the award-winning actor reflect on the racial barrier he overcame to become one of the most successful stars in the Golden Age of Hollywood. “I have no wish to play the pontificating fool, pretending that I’ve suddenly come up with the answers to all life’s questions,” Poitier writes in The Measure of a Man
. “Quite that contrary, I began this book as an exploration, an exercise in self-questing. In other words, I wanted to find out, as I looked back at a long and complicated life, with many twists and turns, how well I’ve done at measuring up to the values I myself have set.”

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