One of Poitier’s biggest regrets was that he was unable to express gratitude to the waiter for his help. It was too late, he thought.
At the age of 94, one of the finest actors in history, Sidney Poitier, passed away in January 2022. Poitier was the first black actor to star in a movie in Hollywood and the first black man to receive the best actor Oscar. The Bahamas-born actor, director, and civil rights activist traveled to New York with the intention of becoming an actor but was prevented from doing so by his inability to read. According to Poitier, a kind waiter took time out of his busy schedule to teach Poitier how to read. On CBS Sunday Morning, Poitier broke down in tears as he described the incident to Lesley Stahl.
WATCH: Sidney Poitier, who passed away this weekend at age 94, chokes up as he tells Lesley Stahl about the elderly Jewish waiter who taught him to read, enabling his acting career to take off pic.twitter.com/MPkDynlFYU— Avi Mayer (@AviMayer) January 9, 2022
Poitier arrived in New York and started washing dishes in a restaurant to make ends meet. Poitier used to bring newspapers to his shifts, and when a Jewish guy asked him about the news, he said that he couldn’t tell him since he couldn’t read.
I read one of the papers as I sit there. A Jewish waiter, an elderly man, was seated at the table and noticed me there, Poitier recalled in the episode. He got up, made his way over, stood by the table close to the kitchen, and said, ‘Hello.’ What’s fresh in the newspaper, please? I told him that because I struggle with reading, I couldn’t tell him what was new in the papers. I didn’t have a very good education.
Would you like me to read aloud to you? he inquired. I responded to him by saying, “Yes, if you’d like to.
After his shift, according to Poitier, he would sit down with him and give him instructions. As Poitier recalled a man who trained Poitier despite having nothing to gain from it, he fought back tears.
the first black man to receive the best actor Oscar.He would explain to me the concept of syllables., how to recognize them inside a word, and how to pronounce them as a result. Every night,” stated the actor, who was visibly upset.
It subsequently changed the path of Poitier’s life, both as a person and as an actor, he continued. But he did have one regret.
"You ask me one-dimensional questions about…the Negro-ness of my life. I am artist, man, American, contemporary. I am an awful lot of things, so I wish you would pay me the respect due." #SidneyPoitier (1927 – 1/6/22 R.I.P.) on the press's reductive focus on his "blackness." pic.twitter.com/QelinX0Ntv— Free Black Thought (@FreeBlckThought) January 7, 2022
In an episode of the podcast “What It Takes,” actor Sidney Poitier lamented that he never had the chance to properly thank him. “I went on to be a very prominent actor, and one day I attempted to find him, but it was too late,” Poitier recalled.
In Oprah interviews, on “60 Minutes,” and in addresses at award shows, the actor has also mentioned the amiable Jewish server.
Poitier would go on to become a prominent figure in Hollywood, if not the first Black actor in a leading role. In the past, Black people had only made brief cameos in movies that were pulled from theaters in conservative parts of America.
“You couldn’t take Sidney Poitier out of a photograph of Sidney Poitier. He was the cause of a movie’s creation. the first African-American movie star to appear alone and above the title. He was distinctive.
Poitier received an Oscar for his contribution in the movie “Lilies of the Field,” in which he played an itinerant worker who helped a group of White nuns build a chapel.
Poitier talked on his journey and its significance after being awarded an honorary Oscar in 2002 for his contributions to the film industry. “I moved to Hollywood at the age of 22 in a different era from the one we live in now, a time when the chances of me being here tonight, 53 years later, were not in my favor. The Guardian quoted him as saying, “At the time, no path had been built for where I was wanting to go, no trail had been left in evidence for me to track, and no custom for me to follow.
Sidney Poitier, my hero. A life so well lived. pic.twitter.com/x6DyUnGQ6q— Lupita Nyong'o (@Lupita_Nyongo) January 7, 2022
“Yet, here I am this evening at the end of a voyage that in 1949 would have been deemed extremely impossible and, in fact, might never have been started in motion,” he stated before mentioning many of the people who had assisted him.