I had no way of knowing that there was madness in what I was trying to do.” — Sidney Poitier
That quote was from an interview that Sidney Poitier did with Lesley Stahl in 2013 that was broadcast a day or so after his passing last week. He reveals the bold, you might say reckless, leap into acting for a man with a strong Bahamian accent who couldn’t read at the time. It would telegraph the boldness and courage with which he would live his life and manage his career.
I didn’t want to let too much time pass between the passing of Sidney Poitier and my writing about him. He was a favorite actor, not because I’ve seen every movie that he’s done (I’ve only seen three) or because I was star struck by his screen presence, but because of the elegant, dignified way that he lived his life. There’s a lesson there for all of us.
“I did not go into the film business to be symbolized as someone else’s vision of me. If the screen does not make room for me in the structure of their screenplay, I’d step back. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it… I live by a certain code. I have to have a certain amount of decency in my behavior or pattern. I have to have that.”
At the end of the interview, Lesley Stahl was asking Poitier about a book he’d just written. His words were equally revealing about how he identified himself. As someone who chips away at this writing thing, I found his words compelling and relatable:
Poitier: “I was not intending to make an impression. I was finding release for myself within myself. I was looking for who I am at this point in my life.”
Stahl: “Did you find out?”
Poitier: “Somewhat, yeah.”
Stahl: “Who are you?“
Poitier: “I’m a good person”
During this interview he reminded me, in his quietly elegant way, of my favorite Navy pilot, my step-father who passed away last year. Maybe that’s why I found him such a compelling guy. I think it was more a passing similarity based on the interview. More to the point, it came down to his decision to live his life by a code of honor, similar to what a Navy pilot might have, and the way that he exemplified it to the end.
Shouldn’t we all aspire to live our lives in this way?