Inside Sidney Poitier’s interracial marriage of 45 years with Joanna Shimkus: ‘We are just destined to be’

Sidney Poitier, the first Black man to win an Oscar, is credited with opening doors for numerous other Black performers over his six-decade career.

Commemorations for the icon flooded in after his passing on January 6 at the age of 94. Former President Barack Obama described Sidney as “a singular talent who epitomized dignity and grace.”

A friend later added: “He was a gentle man and opened doors for all of us that had been closed for years.” Sidney’s fellow actor Denzel Washington described it as a privilege for him.

Sidney Poitier won his first leading part in the 1955 picture Blackboard Jungle, and he went on to act in 55 other movies and TV shows. He will be remembered for shattering Hollywood’s racial barriers.

The Bahamian-American actor married Canadian actress Joanna Shimkus in 1976, and as the proverb says, “No man succeeds without a good woman behind him.”

However, he had already been married, had four children, and engaged in an affair when he first met Shimkus.

Poitier, the youngest of seven children, was born and raised on Cat Island in the Bahamas, where his father had a farm. He spent the first ten years of his life there. Poitier unexpectedly arrived three months early, which qualified him for U.S. citizenship. The family would fly to Miami to market goods.

He first relocated to Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, before migrating to America when he was 15 and enlisting in the military as a teen while lying about his age.

Before getting a part with the American Negro Theatre in Harlem, New York, after leaving the army, he worked as a dishwasher. It was the aspiring actor’s second effort to get in after his first audition, when he was 18 years old, when he was informed he “could hardly read” and couldn’t be an actor with the accent he had.

He didn’t let the harsh rejection get him down; instead, he went out and bought a radio so he could imitate the accents he heard, read every newspaper and magazine he could get his hands on, and asked a senior Jewish waiter at the restaurant where he worked as a dishwasher to help him read and build his vocabulary.

A year and a half later, he went back to the production firm for another audition, which resulted in him being cast on the show and beginning a career that would net him innumerable accolades.

He first debuted on our screens more than ten years ago, and more than ten years later, he won his first Oscar for the movie “Lilies of the Field.” However, his part in “The Lost Man,” when he first met Joanna Shimkus, may have been his most significant one. Four years after Poitier and his first wife Juanita Hardy’s divorce, the film was released in 1969.

It was also the year following the end of his nine-year relationship with the actress Diahann Carroll.

Juanita Hardy and Sidney’s first union lasted for 15 years. 1950 saw their marriage and 1965 saw their divorce. However, his marriage to Joanna Shimkus endured, and the two of them had two daughters.

“I guess we were just destined to be [together],” Joanna said in 1998.

Shimkus took a break from acting between 1972 and 2010 to raise their daughters Anika and Sidney who have both followed in their parents’ footsteps.

Anika directed “Black Irish,” where Shimkus was an executive producer as well. Meanwhile, Sidney appeared in “Veronica Mars” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof.”

Speaking about how they’ve made it work, Poitier said in an interview with Closer: “There is one key ingredient my wife has helped me to recognize over the years, and that is the importance of articulating love for one another on a daily basis.”

“My wife and my children mean the most to me,” Sidney told People in 2016, while Shimkus added another detail to making their relationship last: “We’ve been together 49 years and I’m a good cook. I cook every night. … I take good care of him.”

Despite his many achievements in life: an honorary Academy Award for his work in the entertainment industry, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a knighthood from the Queen, he never lost sight of the importance of family.
Sidney Poitier (left) with wife Joanna Shimkus during 2004 Vanity Fair Oscar Party at Mortons in Beverly Hills, California, United States.

In addition to his six daughters, eight granddaughters, and three great-grandchildren, the renowned actor frequently gathered with his ex-wife, wife, and six daughters.

In the past, there have been numerous instances of couples struggling to manage their interracial relationships.

Joanna, though, claimed that it wasn’t an issue for her and her husband.
On March 20, 1983, Sidney Poitier, his wife Joanna Shimkus, and their daughters attended the “Dreamgirls” premiere at the Shubert Theater in Century City, California.

“I grew up in Canada and I never really had any kind of prejudice — it’s unlike America. I just never had those feelings. And we’ve never had a problem, actually. It could be that we lead a very quiet life. It could be that it’s just the way it is, I don’t really know. But I never really did see him as a Black man. I mean, I know he is Black, but I just saw him as a man, and he was just a wonderful person. An amazing human being,” she said in the documentary Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light.

Godspeed, Sidney Poitier. Your brilliance, grace, and tenacity in the face of difficulty have earned you a place in the hearts of people all across the world for all time.