Poitier broke racial barriers in Hollywood. His appearance in The Defiant Ones in 1958 earned him his first Oscar nomination – in itself a historic achievement for a black man in a lead category at the time.
Five years later he went one better, taking the glory for Lilies of the Field, in which he played a handyman who helps German nuns to build a chapel in the desert.
Speaking on a live Facebook stream on Friday, The Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Philip Davis said: “Our whole Bahamas grieves. But even as we mourn, we celebrate the life of a great Bahamian.”
He added: “His strength of character, his willingness to stand up and be counted and the way he plotted and navigated his life’s journey.
“The boy who moved from the tomato farm to become a waiter in the United States, a young man who not only taught himself to read and write, but who made the expression of words and thoughts and feelings central to his career.”
The actor was a regular on the big screen at a time of racial segregation in the US, appearing in a Patch of Blue in 1965, and then Heat of the Night the year after, followed by Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, playing a black man with a white fiancée.
In Heat of the Night he portrayed Virgil Tibbs, a black police officer confronting racism during a murder investigation.
His other classic films included A Patch of Blue, The Blackboard Jungle and A Raisin in the Sun, which he also performed on Broadway.
He went on to direct a raft of films, and a Broadway play about life and career was announced last month.
‘Tackled racism head on’
Empire magazine’s Amon Warmann told the BBC: “He was a pioneer, he’s so influential and paved the way for so many in the industry to make their own mark, not least Denzel Washington, who paid tribute to him when he won an Oscar.”
Washington,who won an Oscar in 2002on the same night Poitier won an honorary Oscar, joked as he said: “Forty years I’ve been chasing Sidney and what do they do – they go and give it to him in the same night.”
Warmann added that Poitier “tackled racism head on” in his work but was also “so versatile”.
“He really helped change the game for how black actors were viewed at that time [of his Oscar win]. He was one of the biggest stars during that period.”
Viola Davis, the first black American to win an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony Award, said: “No words can describe how your work radically shifted my life.”
Star Trek actorGeorge Takei paid tribute, calling the actor “a trailblazer who will be mourned by so many for whom he opened the very doors of Hollywood”.
James Bond and Westworld actor Jeffrey Wright added that Poitier was a “landmark actor”.
“Poitier in the 60s is this big star and he’s the only dramatic black actor who works continually in these leading roles and he has big films,” he said.
Screenwriter Richard Wesley added: “At that time, there was a social need for a character like Sidney Poitier. The social changes that were being wrought by the civil rights movement were demanding a different kind of conversation, interaction and introspection on the part of black and white people in America at that time.
“Sidney Poitier’s characterisations on screen were part of that conversation – and they were a necessary part of that conversation.”
US filmmaker Ava DuVernay also paid her respects online.
Poitier became the first black actor to receive a life achievement award from the American Film Institute in 1992.
Five years later, he was appointed the Bahamas’ ambassador to Japan and he received a knighthood from the Queen in 1974.
As a Bahamian citizen he was eligible for a substantive knighthood, but given he was a US resident and Bahamian by descent the Bahamian authorities preferred it to be an honorary award.