In his later years, Mr. Poitier’s solid performances in forgettable action films and thrillers such as “Shoot to Kill” (1988), “Little Nikita” (1988) and “Sneakers” (1992). It was television that gave him two of his greatest roles.
In 1991, he starred in the ABC drama “Separate but Equal,” a dramatization of the life of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. In 1997, he delivered a critically acclaimed performance as Nelson Mandela in ‘Mandela and de Klerk’, a television movie about the final years of Mandela’s captivity by the white minority government in South Africa, starring Michael Caine as President FW de Klerk.
“Sidney Poitier and Nelson Mandela merge with astonishing ease, like a double exposure photograph in which one image is superimposed with perfect symmetry,” wrote Caryn James in a review in The New York Times.
In 2002, Mr. Poitier was awarded an honorary Oscar for his work in the film world. (During that same Oscar ceremony, Denzel Washington became the first black actor since Mr. Poitier to win the Best Actor award, for “Training Day.”) He received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1995. And in 2009, President Barack Obama, under citing his “ruthless dedication to breaking down barriers,” he awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Mr Poitier was knighted in 1974 by Queen Elizabeth II.
The memoirs of Mr. Poitier’s ‘This Life’ was followed by a second, ‘The Measure of a Man’, in 2000. Entitled ‘A Spiritual Autobiography’ it contained the thoughts of Mr. Poitier on life, love, acting and racial politics. It spawned a sequel, “Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter” (2008).
Despite his role in changing American perceptions of race and opening the door for a new generation of black actors, Mr. Poitier remained humble about his career. “History will point to me as only a small element in an ongoing great event, a small, if necessary, energy,” he wrote. “But I’m still glad I was chosen.”
Neil Vigdor contributed to reporting.