When he came to New York from the Caribbean to become an actor, he was so impoverished at first that he slept in the bus station. To get his first major role in No Way Out (1950), he lied to director Joseph L. Mankiewicz and told him he was 27, when actually only 22 years old.
Stanley Kramer approached him about co-starring in The Defiant Ones (1958), which made him a bigger star, but admitted that if he did not take the role of "Porgy" in Porgy and Bess (1959) for Samuel Goldwyn it might kill his chances to get the role in The Defiant Ones (1958) as Goldwyn had that much clout in Hollywood.
In the 1960s, for many of his films, he was paid in a way known as "dollar one participation" which basically means he begins collecting a cut of the film's gross from the first ticket sold.
Was nominated for Broadway's 1960 Tony Award as Best Actor (Dramatic) for "A Raisin in the Sun," a role that he recreated in the film version of the same same, A Raisin in the Sun (1961).
Along with Gary Cooper, is the most represented actor on the American Film Institute's 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time, with five of his films on the list. They are: A Raisin in the Sun (1961) at #65, The Defiant Ones (1958) at #55, Lilies of the Field (1963) at #46, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) at #35, and In the Heat of the Night (1967) at #21.
In 1963 he became the first black man to win an Academy Award, for his role as Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field (1963).
His role in The Bedford Incident (1965) marked the first time he would play a role in which his character's race was not an issue.
First black actor to place autograph, hand, and footprints in the cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre (June 23, 1967).
His performance as Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night (1967) is ranked #20 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.
His performance as Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night (1967) is ranked #55 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
His performance as Detective Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night (1967) is ranked #19 on the American Film Institute's 100 Heroes & Villains.
Considered for the male lead for The Owl and the Pussycat (1970), opposite Diana Sands, who had played the part of "Doris" on Broadway.
Future wife Joanna Shimkus encouraged him to direct his first film, Buck and the Preacher (1972), after he and the original director could not agree creatively.
Appointed an Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1974. Although this is often mistaken to have been an honorary knighthood, it is actually a substantive knighthood, as Poitier is a citizen of The Bahamas, a Commonwealth realm which at the time of his appointment recognized the British Honours System. He is thus entitled to be known as Sir Sidney Poitier, but does not himself use this title.
His Stir Crazy (1980) was the highest grossing film directed by a black filmmaker until Scary Movie (2000), directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans almost 20 years later.
During the early 1980s a man named David Hampton conned his way into the homes of several wealthy and prominent New Yorkers (including a dean at Columbia University) by falsely claiming to be Poitier's son. Playwright John Guare, fascinated by the way the story illustrated the magic that the mere mention of Poiter's name held for people of his generation (especially white people), based his play "Six Degrees of Separation" on Hampton's story. The play was adapted into the movie Six Degrees of Separation (1993) in 1993, with Will Smith as the character based upon Hampton.
Along with his name uttered in the lyrics, a photograph of Poitier is held by Busta Rhymes in the 1998 rap video "Gimme Some More".
Premiere Magazine ranked him as #20 on a list of the Greatest Movie Stars of All Time in their Stars in Our Constellation feature (2005).
Has four grandchildren and two great-granddaughters .