Actor Sidney Poitier was one of the first celebrities to transition in 2022, and the emotional ripples of his death continue to overwhelm Hollywood’s biggest players. One of those impacted by his death is the two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington.
Washington, during an interview with People Magazine, shared the details of meeting his mentor the first time.
According to the New York native, he met Sir Sidney when he was a new actor, just getting started.
“I met him in a bookstore and I had a picture and résumé,” Washington recalled with a smile. “And I broke it out.”
Poitier told the excited young actor that this was not the time for him to accept the portfolio. During this time, Washington was still performing in local theater companies like Shakespeare in the Park and the Negro Ensemble, where he perfected his role in the off-Broadway play that would later become a movie that would change his life, “A Soldier’s Play.”
Washington confesses that this was around the time that he was a struggling actor— one who expected to get a job right after graduating from Fordham University in 1977.
He said, “I was that guy. They said, ‘Always have your picture and résumé ready, just in case.’ And there was Sidney.”
“So I was stalking him a little bit.” He revealed in jest.
The stalking paid off. The two eventually became good friends. Sir Sidney, the first Black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the 1963 movie “Lilies of the Field,” has not only supported Washington publicly but also privately as a friend.
The “Tragedy of Macbeth” star said that his mentor gave him advice that he still carries today.
In a 2012 GQ interview, he said, “Sidney Poitier told me this years ago: ‘If they see you for free all week, they won’t pay to see you on the weekend, because they feel like they’ve seen you. If you walk by the magazine section in the supermarket and they’ve known you all their life, there’s no mystery. They can’t take the ride.’”
“My professional work is being a better actor. I don’t know how to be a celebrity,” he confessed.
While he doesn’t know how to be a celebrity, he knows how to be a friend. As a friend, he presented Poitier with the special honorary Academy Award in 2002.
“Going back to that young guy I met, and now to be standing up there with him in that particular moment — that night of all nights — is beyond words,” Washington said. “Just to be mentioned in the same sentence as him is a dream of a lifetime.”
In his life, Poitier dared to defy stereotypes and felt a responsibility to his people to show up poised and classy.
“It’s been an enormous responsibility, and I accepted it, and I lived in a way that showed how I respected that responsibility,” Poitier told Oprah Winfrey. “I had to. In order for others to come behind me, there were certain things I had to do.”
It was this sense of responsibility that influenced Washington for four decades. In 2002, Washington said, “Before Sidney, African American actors had to take supporting roles in major studio films that were easy to cut out in certain parts of the country. But you couldn’t cut Sidney Poitier out of a Sidney Poitier picture.”
“He was the reason a movie got made: the first solo, above-the-title African American movie star,” Washington stated.
Sir Sidney Poitier, the Bahamian-American actor and civil rights leader knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974, died on Jan. 6, 2022, at the age of 94.
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