R.I.P. Sidney Poitier, the trailblazing actor of In the Heat of the Night and A Raisin in the Sun
The American icon was 94.
Porgy and Bess, A Raisin in the Sun, Cry, the Beloved Country, Blackboard Jungle, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner — Sidney Poitier's filmography reads like a list of the greatest films of all time. But they were arguably on that list because of Poitier.
As one of the biggest stars of the 1950s and 1960s, the Miami-born actor was in some ways too big for the small screen. At the time, television was seen as less prestigious than film, and Poitier was the definition of prestige. That being said, the Academy Award–winning legend made an impact on television.
Homicide inspector Virgil Tibbs, the central character of In the Heat of the Night, would later be played by Howard Rollins in the television adaptation that aired for seven seasons. (The movie's script was also written by Stirling Silliphant, creator of Route 66.)
Blackboard Jungle, one of Poitier's earliest breakthrough roles in 1955, a tale of rebellious teens, was also the screen debut of young Jameel Farah — who would later change his name to Jamie Farr and star in M*A*S*H.
In a recent interview with We Are the Mighty, Farr said working with Poitier was his most fulfilling acting experience outside of M*A*S*H. "It would be M*A*S*H and Blackboard Jungle for film. The film had Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier with music featuring Bill Haley and His Comets which was filmed at MGM," Farr said of his favorite roles.
As an acclaimed stage actor, Poitier did make some television appearances in the dawn of his career, when the medium was fond of staging dramas. He appeared on the anthology series Omnibus ("The Bad Men") and CBS Television Workshop ("Careless Love"). In 1996, he headlined a sequel to one of his biggest hits, a TV movie titled To Sir, with Love II.
As a director, Poitier showed his hand at comedy, directing the likes of Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, and Gilda Radner in Stir Crazy and Hanky Panky.
Poitier's death was confirmed on January 7, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 94.