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Denzel Washington says his late friend and acting legend Sidney Poitier helped him significantly in the early days of his career.
Washington, 67, reflected on his relationship with Poitier — who died last Thursday at age 94 — while speaking to Entertainment Tonight this week. The Macbeth actor told ET he saw Poitier as both a “mentor” in the film industry and as a “friend.”
“He was a mentor, needless to say, an example, a friend,” Washington said. “He’s someone who had been there, walked the walk, talked the talk.”
Looking back on the start of their friendship, he recalled, “When I [first] met him 40 some-odd years ago, I was doing a play and he came backstage, and he said to me, ‘You know, you’re good.’ “
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Washington said Poitier’s praise pushed him to continue to pursue an acting career.
“For Sidney Poitier to say to some 20-year-old, ‘Hey, you’re good,’ that’s all I needed to hear,” he told ET. “That kept me going. If he thinks I am, then maybe I got something.”
While Washington and Poitier remained friends for years, they never appeared in a film together, something the former said he regrets.
“God bless him,” Washington told Variety, adding, “I missed that opportunity.”
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When news of Poitier’s death broke Friday, Hollywood mourned the loss of a legendary actor and a trailblazing member of the industry. Poitier made history in 1964 when he became the first Black man to win the Best Actor Oscar for his role in Lilies of the Field.
Washington also previously addressed Poitier’s death in a statement shared with PEOPLE.
“It was a privilege to call Sidney Poitier my friend. He was a gentle man and opened doors for all of us that had been closed for years,” Washington said. “God bless him and his family.”
While Washington has been vocal about his admiration for Poitier, the late Oscar winner also shared kind words about the Fences star. In 2008, Poitier praised Washington for his contributions to the film industry, saying, “[Washington] had taken the concept of African-Americans in films to a place where I couldn’t, I didn’t.”
Poitier added, “And he has taken it there with the same kind of integrity that I tried to articulate. So I thank him for that.”
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