He may be one of the best actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood, but for Sidney Poitier‘s wife, Joanna Shimkus, he’ll always be remembered as the best husband and father to their two daughters.
Poitier, who became the first Black man to win the Oscar for Best actor in 1964, died on the evening of January 6, 2022. He was 94 years old. “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,” Oprah Winfey, one of Poitier’s longtime friends, said in a statement at the time.
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.
Poitier is survived by his wife, Joanna Shimkus, and five of his six daughters. Who is Sidney Poitier‘s wife, Joanna Shimkus, and who was his ex-wife, Juanita Hardy? Read on for what to know about Sidney Poitier’s wife and his rumored affair during his first marriage.
Joanna Shimkus (1976 – 2022)
Sidney Poitier’s second wife was Joanna Shimkus, an actress he met on the set of the 1969 movie The Lost Man, in which they played love interests, Jason Higgs and Cathy Ellis. They married on January 23, 1976 and welcomed two daughters together: Anika, who was born on February 29, 1972, and Sydney Tamila, who was born November 15, 1973. Poitier and Shimkus stayed married until Poitier died on January 6, 2022, at the age of 99. In an interview with Closer Weekly in 2020, Poitier revealed the “key ingredient” to his marriage of 50-plus years. “There is one key ingredient my wife has helped me to recognize over the years, and that is the importance of articulating love for one another on a daily basis.” he said. Shimkus, for her part, described Poitier as “the most wonderful, generous, kind, honest man with the most integrity that I’ve ever known in my life.”
In an interview with People in 2016, Poitier called his wife and children—who also include his four daughters, Beverly, Pamela, Sherri and Gina, with his first wife, Juanita Hardy—the most meaningful parts of his life. “My wife and my children mean the most to me.” he said. “We’ve been together 49 years and I’m a good cook. I cook every night. … I take good care of him.” Poitier also told O, The Oprah Magazine in 2000 about how he and Shimkus differed as parents. “I would be unlikely to say that I’m easy [as a father],” Poitier said. “She would tell you that I’m a perfectionist to a degree and that I ask of others a certain kind of loyalty to and respect for relationships. My wife would say that, on occasion, I’m a little tough on the children.”
He continued, “In what I expect and demand of them in terms of values. My children respect my values, and I can see some of those values in them. That pleases me, because my values are not constricting. They are human values. My kids are quite intelligent — all six of them.”
In the 1998 documentary, Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light, Shimkus recalled her and Poitier’s wedding day, which saw both of their daughters as flower girls and Harry Belafonte as the groom’s best man. “I guess we were just destined to be [together],” she said, noting that their interracial relationship wasn’t an issue for them. “I grew up in Canada and I never really had any kind of prejudice — it’s unlike America. I just never had those feelings. And we’ve never had a problem, actually. It could be that we lead a very quiet life. It could be that it’s just the way it is, I don’t really know. But I never really did see him as a Black man. I mean, I know he is Black, but I just saw him as a man, and he was just a wonderful person. An amazing human being.”
As for what attracted her to Poitier, Shimkus said, “The thing that attracted me to him the most, I think, is his integrity and his honesty [and] his loyalty to his family. He’s just an amazing human being. He’s just a good, good, good person,” she said, adding, “And he’s cute too, yes! And he was especially gorgeous then. He still is too now, but he was very, very attractive then.”
In his speech for the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2016 BAFTAs, Poitier thanked his wife and children for “keeping” him on his “feet.” “Today my cup runneth over because I am here with my daughter and the future filmmakers of the world in celebration of this wonderful art form,” Poitier said at the time. “I have been very lucky. I have tried to be a good human being, a good actor, a good director, a good filmmaker. My wife is with me here. My wife, my children and my friends have been keeping me on my feet. To my family, my life force, I am nothing without you. And all of you, thank you for your warm embrace and this extraordinary moment and memory I shall cherish.”
Shimkus is an actress and model who has starred in movies likeDe l’amour, Les aventuriers, Tante Zita, Ho!, Boom! (opposite Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton),L’Invitée, The Virgin and the Gypsy, The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker andA Time for Loving. Shimkus was born on October 30, 1943, in Halifax, Nova Scotia to a Lithuanian-Jewish father and a Catholic mother of Irisch descent. She was raised in Montreal and moved to Paris, France, at 19 years old to work as a model before she started acting. She was 78 years old at the time of Poitier’s death.
Juanita Hardy (1950 – 1965)
Sidney Poitier’s first wife was Juanita Hardy, a model. Poitier and Hardy married on April 29, 1950 and welcomed four daughters together: Beverly, Pamela, Sherri and Gina. The two raised their family Stuyvesant, New York, in a house on the Hudson River. Poitier, himself, became a resident of Mount Vernon in Westchester County, New York, in 1956. Poitier’s fourth daughter, Gina, died on May 27, 2018. Her cause of death hasn’t been revealed. “Her departure was quick and unexpected,” Gina’s family wrote in an obituary at the time. The obituary continued, “It is a gross understatement to say that she will be missed.”
Poitier and Hardy were married for 15 years until their divorce in 1965. According to The Mirror, Poitier had a nine-year affair with actress Diahann Caroll, while he was still married to Hardy. Per The Mirror, the affair started in 1959 after Poitier and Caroll starred together in the movie Porgy and Bess. At the time, Carroll was married to her first husband, Monty Kay, with whom she shared a daughter named Suzanne. The two went on to star in their second movie together, Paris Blues, in 1961. According to The New York Post, Carroll and Poitier were also photographed together at the Academy Awards in 1964, the same night Poitier won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in 1963’s Lilies of the Field.
In her 2008 memoir, The Legs are the Last to Go, Carroll confirmed her affair with Poitier and claimed that Poitier told her that he would leave his wife for her. She also alleged that Poitier told her to also divorce her husband so they could be with each other. Carroll divorced her husband in 1963. According to the book, Carroll moved into a 10-room apartment on Riverside Drive in New York City that Poitier paid for after her divorce from Kay. She also alleged that Poitier gave her a ring at the time, though he didn’t confirm it was a proposal.
Soon after he gave her the ring, Caroll claimed that Poitier called her to tell her that he was having doubts about their relationship and would not leave his wife. “He changed the locks so I couldn’t get in [to the Riverside Drive apartment]. Then he made me write him a check to offset his purchase and decorating costs,” Carroll wrote. “I did as I was told, submissive and desperate.” When Carroll started to date other men after her and Poitier’s split, she claimed that Poitier called her at her hotel to criticize her. “Sidney called me at my hotel … ‘You bitch, whore, tramp,’ he yelled. ‘I know he just left your bed. I won’t have you running around with other men. You belong to me!'” she wrote. Despite how their relationship ended, Carroll wrote in the book that she and Poitier reunited several decades later and became friends. “Sidney and I are now friends. That’s a lovely thing that comes as you age — forgiveness and perhaps a relaxing of standards,” she said.
As for Hardy, Poitier’s first wife if a former model and dancer. According to her Linkedin, Hardy has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics from Livingston College, where she graduated from in 1973. She also attended George Washington University and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Her current job is as a Managing Principal at Tiger Management Consulting Group, a management consulting firm she founded in 2006. Before she started her company, Hardy worked with brands like the Urban Land Institute, Right Management and IBM Global Services.
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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