Halle Berry Recalls Sidney Poitier 'Looking Over Me as a Proud Father Would' When She Won Oscar

Halle Berry became the first Black woman to win Best Actress at the Academy Awards in 2002

Sidney Poitier was like a father figure to Halle Berry.

Poitier, who died on Thursday at the age of 94, made history as the first Black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor when he was recognized for Lilies of the Field on April 13, 1964. In an emotional essay for Variety, Berry, 55, pays tribute to Poitier, remembering how she admired him since she was little.

"As imperfect as my dad was, as deep of a wedge as his fury drove between us, I loved him, missed him, longed to have him close," she wrote about her dad, adding that she was 4 when he and her mom broke up as he struggled with alcoholism. "In my mind's eye, and in my father's absence, Sidney epitomized what a man should be: unflappable and courageous, eloquent and proud, charming and handsome. He even physically resembled my father."

Berry eventually met Poitier while doing research for her role as Dorothy Dandridge in the 1999 HBO movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. She became speechless finally meeting her "idol" after respecting him "from afar" for so long.

"I was so overwhelmed by his powerful presence, his regal aura, I could not get my words out. For several minutes, I just sat there and stared at him," she recalled.

Then, when she became the first Black woman to win Best Actress at the Academy Awards March 24, 2002, for Monster's Ball, Berry remembers spotting Poitier in the crowd. (He was given an Honorary Award, presented to him that night by Denzel Washington.)

"As I concluded my rambling speech I looked up and saw dear Sidney, high in the balcony seemingly with a halo surrounding him, looking over me as a proud father would," said Berry. "Our paths had crossed all those years earlier when I, wide-eyed and frizzy-headed, watched him in awe from my living-room sofa."

Halle Berry Oscar win
Halle Berry winning the Oscar in 2002. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty

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"Decades later in that arena, our lives became inextricably connected — he, the first Black man to garner a leading-man Oscar, and I, the first Black woman to accomplish the same in my category," continued Berry. "I was as tongue-tied in that moment as I was when I'd initially met him, as moved as I still am when I watch his films."

Berry said that history will remember Poitier as "a giant of the screen, a legendary actor and director, a performer whose enormous talents were eclipsed only by his kindness. I will recall him as my first mirror, and the true measure of a man — and I will forever see him as the angel in the balcony watching over all of us."

The Bruised actress/director has previously opened up about her father Jerome Jesse Berry, who died in 2003.

"There's lots of abuse in my childhood. I grew up with an alcoholic father that was very abusive, both verbally, emotionally, physically," Berry said on NPR's Fresh Air podcast in December, adding, "When he died, I was given a gift of talking to a spiritual healer and someone that took me through some spiritual exercises to sort of heal my wound with my dad."

She explained that it helped her see that her father was who he was "largely because of the love and the guidance he didn't receive as a child." Mom-of-two Berry said she "started to look at him as an innocent little boy who got raised by an alcoholic father and a mother who was so broken herself," and then she discovered that the trauma extended even further back.

"Looking at it that way, I'm full of love for him," she concluded.

Halle Berry and Sidney Poitier
Halle Berry and Sidney Poitier in 2006. A Berliner/BEI/Shutterstock

On Friday, Berry reacted to news of Poitier's death on Instagram, celebrating him for "paving the way" in Hollywood.

"My dear Sidney, an enormous part of my soul weeps at your passing. In your ninety-four years on this planet, you left an indelible mark with your extraordinary talent, paving the way for Black people to be seen and heard in the fullness of who we are," wrote Berry. "You were an iconic trailblazer; yours was a life well lived."

"I grew up idolizing you and will always remember the day when I first met you. It is the only time in my life when I've been rendered speechless!" she continued. "There I sat, with my words glued together, and you were as gracious and charming then as you would be during our decades of friendship to follow."

Added Berry, "Rest in peace, beloved Sidney. You are and always will be the true measure of a man."

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