Yes, he is still alive — at age 90. (A prostate cancer survivor, no less.)
That may be one reason why it’s hard for younger generations fully appreciate today just how important Poitier was to mid-to-late 20th century Hollywood. He was the colony’s rare leading man, the first black star to win a best actor Oscar (for 1963’s Lillies of the Field.)
It is tempting to regard Poitier as a bypassed landmark, the world’s most handsome black man and Hollywood’s Uncle Tom, writes British critic David Thomson. We strongly urge that you resist this temptation.
Poitier was at his peak one of Hollywood’s most potent STARS, who used his box office clout to expand his own work opportunities and extend them to others. Often overlooked today is the fact that in the 1970’s he directed several titles featuring mostly black casts.
But there is no denying that Poitier’s acting career has never been able to disguise the fact that the man playing his parts is a regulation black: good-looking, amiable, attractive and black, writes Thomson. That his parts involved authority figures (doctors, teachers, etc.) invites the impression that Poitier was Hollywood’s “good Negro.”
Be that as it may, Poitier earned his stardom by performing onscreen invariably with precision, zest and passion. He was the tall (the actor stands over 6-feet-2), refined suitor of Spencer Tracy’s daughter in director Stanley Kramer’s 1967 drama, Guess Whose Coming To Dinner. Nine years earlier he carried the banner of racial harmony (along with a bedraggled Tony Curtis) in Kramer’s The Defiant Ones.
Poitier stood out as the stalwart, amiable longshoreman in Martin Ritt’s drama Edge of the City. An outstanding turn as a righteous school teacher in Richard Brooks’ 1955 drama Blackboard Jungle still stands out.
Poitier’s career spans the second half of the last century; he hung it up in the 1990’s. He remains one of Hollywood very biggest stars of the period. Not bad for an impoverished Bahamanian born in Miami 1924.