On Thursday, Cicely Tyson, an award-winning icon of the stage and screen, died at 96.
The cause of death is not revealed.
The late actress chronicled her long career in her first memoir, “Just As I Am,” which was just released last Tuesday.
Tyson embodied African-American women who demanded attention and respect. The actress played former slaves, civil rights icons, sharecroppers, truthtellers, mothers, and other complicated women, bringing a sense of depth, nobility, and grace to every character.
Tyson’s filmography includes some of the most celebrated movies and TV shows featuring Black women in major roles such as “Sounder” (1972), “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (1974), “Roots” (1977), “The Marva Collins Story” (1981), “The Women of Brewster Place” (1989), and “The Help” (2011).
Tyson was born December 19, 1924, in New York to William and Theodosia Tyson. Early on, she gravitated toward performing, playing piano, and reciting in her family’s church when she was a child. She later attended New York University.
She was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in the film — her only Oscar nomination. It would be another 45 years before she took home the golden statue when she received an honorary Oscar in 2018, the only Black woman to do so.
In 1974, she starred in “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” a television movie based on a novel by Ernest Gaines. Tyson was the title character, a woman born into slavery who lives well into the 20th century and takes part in African Americans’ struggles for civil rights.
She won two Emmys for the role — best actress in a drama and actress of the year. During her career, she would win a total of three Emmy Awards out of 15 nominations.
As her career progressed, generations of entertainers who had grown up admiring Tyson clamored to work with her and gushed about her work.
Actress Angela Bassett, who worked with Tyson on the movie “The Rosa Parks Story,” proclaimed Tyson as one of her top influences. In a 1997 ceremony, Bassett said that Tyson’s roles ‘were my earliest acting teachers, history teachers, life teachers.’
“Cicely Tyson chose to empower us when we didn’t even know it was possible for us to be empowered. For six decades, she has been diligent in her pursuit to better us all,” Tyler Perry said when Tyson received the Medal of Freedom.
Oprah Winfrey, who has praised Tyson as a standout, groundbreaker, and inspiration, honored the actress at her famous Legends Ball, celebrating the actress and ensuring that she, and her work, would be introduced to a new generation of film enthusiasts.
“Ms. Tyson has always been my muse,” Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis wrote in Vanity Fair magazine. “She is excellence. She is courage.”
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