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Sidney Poitier Gave Denzel Washington the Advice that Defined His Career: Inside Their Empowering Friendship

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For Denzel Washington, meeting Sidney Poitier when he did was one of the best gifts fate ever bestowed on him in the course of his career pursuits.

Denzel Washington has the most inspiring story detailing his rise to fame and success. However, his path could have been different had he not met his mentor Sidney Poitier, who gave him the best advice in his career.

Decades later, the legendary actor still cherishes those words of wisdom, which admittedly shaped the course of his career, making him the successful icon the world reveres today.

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More importantly, it paved the way for a friendship not even death could steal away. In honor of Sidney Poitier’s passing, here’s a glimpse into the empowering relationship between Denzel Washington and his revered friend.

Denzel Washington and Sidney Poitier | Image: Pinterest
Image: Pinterest

Theirs Was A Destined Friendship

Poitier and Washington’s paths first crossed in 1978, while the latter was on the verge of kicking off an acting career. The then-aspiring actor spotted Poitier in a bookstore by chance while walking down the road outside, (probably trying to catch a bus.)

Eager to grab his big chance, he rushed into the store and approached the older man, airing his intentions to venture into the entertainment business.

He proceeded to pass his resume to him and ask for a job, mistaking Poitier’s graciousness for weakness. Although Washington never got a call back from the older actor, they had another chance encounter four years later.

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They met at a stage play in 1982, where Poitier got to see Washington act for the first time in “A Soldier’s Play.”

After watching the “Fences” star onstage, the Bahamian-American commended his acting prowess, asking him to keep it up.

Washington, who aspired to become just like the Hollywood legend, didn’t hesitate to ask the actor to accept another resume from him, and thus, the two men hit it off.

That memorable encounter happened over forty years ago, and Washington has admittedly been chasing Sidney Poitier ever since.

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Their Relationship Goes Beyond Friendship

With 27 years between them, the bond between the two men easily developed into a father-and-son relationship. In addition to his immense admiration for Poitier, Washington considered the diplomat as his mentor.

Denzel Washington in his youth | Image: Pinterest
Image: Pinterest

Poitier happily showed the upcoming actor the ropes in Hollywood, leading him in the right direction and opening doors for him in the right places.

Washington acknowledges the film director’s role in paving the way for other black actors through his remarkable accomplishments. He once said of the “Lilies Of The Field” star, who was the first black man to win an Oscar in the Best Actor category:

“He Was The reason a movie got made: The first solo, above-the-title African American movie star.”

Notably, Poitier’s achievements proved to the world that black actors could also star in lead roles that could not be easily cut out. Little wonder many have dubbed the icon as The Martin Luther King of Hollywood.

Poitier’s Advice Shaped Washington’s Career

Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington remained close following their 1982 meeting. Then in 1984, the star had his life-changing experience, thanks to his mentor.

He had just been offered a high-paying lead role in a movie to play a black man set to be electrocuted for being a serial rapist who raped white women.

Before accepting the role, he turned to Poitier for counsel, eager to know if accepting it was the right thing to do career-wise. The established actor never gave the response the newbie yearned. Instead, he left him with career-defining advice, saying:

“I’m not going to tell you what to do. But I will tell you this, the first,  two, three, or four films you do in this business will dictate how you are perceived.”

Washington ended up turning down the role, a decision he regards as one of the best he ever made.

Chasing Dreams

Washington’s decision to chase his mentor finally paid off in 2002, when he walked the path Poitier set in 1963 by winning an Oscar for Best Actor for his role in “Training Day.”

Coincidentally, the “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” star took home an honorary Academy Award that same night.

Sidney Poitier | Image: Pinterest
Image: Pinterest

While receiving his trophy, Washington dedicated the milestone moment to his mentor, in a heartfelt acceptance speech.

He admitted to chasing Poitier for the last four decades and how glad he was to finally make headway by winning an Oscar on the same night his mentor did. Filled with delight, the film director stood to honor his mentee, who then added:

“I’ll always be chasing you, Sidney. I’ll always be following in your footsteps. There is nothing I’ll rather do sir.”

Notably, the win made Washington the first black actor to snag an Oscar for Best Actor in 38 years and only the second since Poitier’s iconic win.

Reciprocated Feelings

Like his mentee, Sidney Poitier has never shied away from expressing his feelings of admiration and gratitude towards Washington.

During a 2014 interview, the “Separate But Equal” actor admitted to being indebted to the “Flight” star for taking the concept of African Americans in films to a place he couldn’t.

He also thanked Washington for doing so with the same integrity he always strived to uphold. 

Poitier admitted the 67-year-old’s speech on the night of their joint Oscar wins marked the closing of his artistic life. He would forever be grateful to him for helping put the button on his long successful career.

On Washington’s part, he felt indebted to Poitier for paving the way for black entertainers in the movie industry.

Poitier Was Always Proud Of Washington

Sidney Poitier couldn’t have asked for a better friend and mentee in his lifetime and the icon made that known on various occasions. He once acknowledged the impact of Washington’s Oscar win in African-American history.

The legend described it as an “example of the persistence, effort, and determination of young people of color.” He also gushed about his admiration and respect for Washington, who had been a “quintessential element in the finest of all American actors.”

Washington Wanted To Star In A Movie With Poitier

In what was Sidney Poitier’s first credited movie, “No way Out,” the actor played a black doctor treating a racist white bigot. He portrayed the role so well that he quickly became a household name. The movie was followed by two more hits, quickly skyrocketing him to stardom.

That big break set him apart from other entertainers of his time, making him an indispensable figure. It comes as no surprise that generations of upcoming actors idolized him, hoping to forge a path just like Poitiers’.

Throughout his career, Denzel Washington has had one big wish at the back of his mind – To star in a movie with Sidney Poitier. In a January 2022 interview, Washington opened up about his dreams of sharing the screen with his long-revered mentor.

Sadly, he never got the chance to fulfill that wish before Sidney Poitier’s death on January 6, 2022, at the age of 94.

Washington’s Touching Tribute

Following Sidney’s demise, several Hollywood icons paid tribute to him, acknowledging his contributions to the industry. Washington was among the stars who paid him tribute.

Obama bestowed the highest civilian honor on Sidney Poitier | Image: Pinterest
Image: Pinterest

In a statement, the 67-year-old admitted it was a privilege to call Poitier his friend. He went on to describe the late actor as a gentleman, who opened doors for “all of us” that were closed for years.

With a heavy heart, he also prayed for God’s blessings on Poitier and his family, admitting he would forever miss the legend and his one true friend.

Who would have thought that Denzel Washington, who was determined to never have movie stars as friends, would find one in Sidney Poitier? This only proves their relationship as a rare gem.

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