'My mom, in something of a swoon, explained to me that this was not just any man, this was Sydney Poitier. What a gesture. What a gentleman. Rest in peace.'
Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 12, 2022. It has since been updated.
Scores of prominent figures paid their tributes to the late Sidney Poitier in the wake of his death on Thursday evening, January 6, 2022, at 94. However, a poignant remembrance by Julia Louis-Dreyfus struck a chord with tens of thousands across social media. The "Veep" star shared an Instagram post with a touching story of her eight-year-old self meeting the Hollywood legend for the first time, sharing a black and white photo of Poitier—the first Black man to win the Best Actor Oscar—,. "In the middle of the night, when I was 8 years old, I was given a white rose by the most elegant man I would ever meet," she wrote.
"I was in Tunisia traveling with my family — my father worked with the 60's equivalent of Doctors Without Borders," the former "Seinfeld" actor recalled, before revealing that it was the night Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969. "At 2 in the morning, my mom woke me up and, in our nightgowns, we went to the lobby of the Tunis Hilton where they had set up a little black and white television on which at 2:56 am, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon," Louis-Dreyfus wrote.
Sidney Poitier, the first Black actor to win the Best Actor Oscar, has died at 94. Poitier was barrier-breaking and an enduring inspiration who advanced US racial dialogue through his art. Few movie stars have had or will have the influence Poitier had both on and off screen. pic.twitter.com/TpNvH0MaSq— The Academy (@TheAcademy) January 7, 2022
"Afterwards, we headed outside to look up through the hot summer night at the never-again-the-same moon in the sky," she continued. "What could possibly top THAT? Well, it was when we returned to the lobby, and that handsome elegant stranger gave to me and each woman present a white rose to commemorate this historic evening." The "handsome elegant stranger," she explained, turned out to be none other than Poitier. "My mom, in something of a swoon, explained to me that this was not just any man, this was Sydney Poitier. What a gesture. What a gentleman. Rest in peace," Louis-Dreyfus concluded.
"You ask me one-dimensional questions about...the Negro-ness of my life. I am artist, man, American, contemporary. I am an awful lot of things, so I wish you would pay me the respect due." #SidneyPoitier (1927 – 1/6/22 R.I.P.) on the press's reductive focus on his "blackness." pic.twitter.com/QelinX0Ntv— Free Black Thought (@FreeBlckThought) January 7, 2022
The story resonated deeply with all those mourning the loss of the Hollywood icon. "Wow. Love this so much. Ultimate gentleman and so filled with grace and elegance. Memory eternal Sir Sidney," commented Jenni Pulos. "Thank you for sharing your story. It adds yet more perspective and dimension to the man and why it is such a loss for the world," wrote Instagram user patriziadeg. "Hands down, and also simultaneously up, one of the best experiences that I have ever been privileged to read. Not only stars and heroes in the sky, but also a heroic, giant, illuminating star on earth in your orbit. Grazie tantissimo for sharing," commented another user.
You opened the door for us all. We will forever speak your name, #SidneyPoitier! ❤️🕊 pic.twitter.com/WycHpmzoG3— Debbie Allen (@msdebbieallen) January 7, 2022
You have been & will continue to be the greatest inspiration of my career. Your distinguished presence, dignity, strength & courage have inspired all that I aspire to be as a man, a human being, creative artist. Thank you & may you rest in infinite power, Sir Sidney Poitier. 🙏🏽🖤 pic.twitter.com/sI31G3fPlF— Giancarlo Esposito (@quiethandfilms) January 7, 2022
Sidney Poitier 🕊 pic.twitter.com/otVjSFHaw8— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) January 7, 2022
A number of other celebrities also shared touching personal messages of their appreciation for Poitier, including Viola Davis, who penned a moving post about the impact he made on her life and career. "This is a big one. No words can describe how your work radically shifted my life. The dignity, normalcy, strength, excellence and sheer electricity you brought to your roles showed us that we, as Black folks, mattered!!!... You told us, "If your dreams do not scare you, they're not big enough!" I put this quote on my daughter's wall. Rest well, Mr. Poitier. Thank you! Thank you for leaving a legacy. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest," she wrote.
Meanwhile, in an emotional Facebook post, Tyler Perry recalled inviting the actor on a trip to South Africa with the late Cicely Tyson, who died on January 28, 2021, at 96. "Around this time last year, Cicely Tyson was releasing her book and promoting it. I had no idea she would pass away shortly thereafter. Now, to wake up this morning to a call that Sidney Poitier has passed away... all I can tell you is that my heart broke in another place. The grace and class that this man has shown throughout his entire life, the example he set for me, not only as a Black man but as a human being will never be forgotten," he wrote.
"There is no man in this business who has been more of a North Star for me than Sidney Poitier," Perry continued. "I'll never forget inviting him and Cicely to fly to South Africa with me. Selfishly, I wanted to hold them both captive for the hours-long trip as I literally sat at their feet and listened to their wisdom and experiences. It was life-changing. All I can say is thank you for your life, thank you for your example, and thank you for your incredible gift. But most of all, thank you for being willing to share YOU to make us all better."
Sidney Poitier, who has died at 94, helped reshape that world to such a degree that we’ll never be able to reckon fully with his impact https://t.co/KNNorc52Yt pic.twitter.com/71FmavSVwe— TIME (@TIME) January 7, 2022