Tyson chronicled her lengthy and successful career in her first memoir 'Just As I Am' which was just released on Tuesday.
Cicely Tyson, the pioneering stage, screen, and television icon whose striking portrayals of strong African-American women broke barriers for Black actress with the utmost dignity, has died. She was 96. The Oscar-nominated star's longtime manager broke the tragic news of her death through a family statement on Thursday but did not reveal the cause of death. "With heavy heart, the family of Miss Cicely Tyson announces her peaceful transition this afternoon. At this time, please allow the family their privacy," read the statement, according to the Associated Press.
Tyson was born on December 19, 1924, to William and Theodosia Tyson in New York. From an early age, she gravitated towards the performing arts and began her career as a model in the 1950s, reports CNN. By the mid-1960s she frequently appeared on television in guest-starring roles. In the 1970s Black women were finally beginning to get starring roles however, Tyson remained choosy and didn't just take up any work for the paycheck.
"I’m very selective as I’ve been my whole career about what I do. Unfortunately, I’m not the kind of person who works only for money. It has to have some real substance for me to do it," the legend told The Associated Press in 2013. Speaking to an interviewer, she once complained, "We Black actresses have played so many prostitutes and drug addicts and housemaids, always negative. I won’t play that kind of characterless role anymore, even if I have to go back to starving."
The star got her big break in her 1972 movie Sounder, where she portrayed the role of a sharecropper’s wife. "She passes all of her easy beauty by to give us, at long last, some sense of the profound beauty of millions of Black women," wrote the New York Times reviewer at the time. Her excellent performance won her an Academy Award nomination as best actress of 1972. She went on to play several complicated roles including former slaves, civil rights icons, mothers, and portrayed each of their characters with the utmost grace and nobility.
Her most celebrated works include movies and television shows that featured Black women in major roles. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), Roots (1977), The Marva Collins Story (1981), The Women of Brewster Place, (1989), The Rosa Parks Story (2002), and The Help (2011) are a few of her extraordinary works. She won two Emmys for her titular role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and in the due course of her career, she bagged a total of three Emmy Awards out of 15 nominations. In 2013, she won a Tony award at the age of 88 for best leading actress in a play for the revival of Horton Foote’s “The Trip to Bountiful.” Despite so many accomplishments, Tyson still said that her most significant achievement was receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2016. "In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only exceeded as an actor, she has shaped the course of history," said the former POTUS that day.
For Tyson that was "the most important thing that could happen to me." During an interview with television host Steve Harvey, Tyson said, "I am one of three children, grew up in the area that is now known as El Barrio and that was the East Side (of New York). To come from there to the White House with the first black President ... to put that medal around my neck: Where can you go from there?" Even in her 90s, the artist continued acting telling Time magazine that she did not plan to retire any time soon. "We have to honor this blessed gift that we have. That's what keeps you going. Keeps your mind fluid -- your heart, your whole being," said the actress who was 94 at the time. "You can't just stop, because that will be the end of you." Tyson also chronicled her lengthy and successful career in her first memoir Just As I Am which was just released on Tuesday.
Actors, who closely knew Tyson, were grief-stricken after the news broke out. Tyler Perry revealed that the news of her death had "brought me to my knees." She called me son. Well, today your son grieves your loss and will miss our long talks, your laughter from your belly, and your very presence. Always so regal, always so classy, always a lady, always a queen, he wrote in an emotional Instagram post. Oprah Winfrey shared a tribute alongside a picture with the late star taken at the 2005's Legends Ball, a celebration of "remarkable Black women."
This one hurts, today we honor and celebrate the life of one of the greatest to ever do it. Thank you Cicely Tyson. Rest in great power. pic.twitter.com/vwchWT5512— Zendaya (@Zendaya) January 29, 2021
Viola Davis, who shared the screen with Tyson on the Shonda Rhimes-produced How to Get Away with Murder, was also left "devastated" by the loss. I'm devastated. My heart is just broken. I loved you so much!! You were everything to me! You made me feel loved and seen and valued in a world where there is still a cloak of invisibility for us dark chocolate girls. You gave me permission to dream....because it was only in my dreams that I could see the possibilities in myself, wrote the Oscar-winning actress in a moving post. I'm not ready for you to be my angel yet. But...I also understand that it's only when the last person who has a memory of you dies, that you'll truly be dead. In that case, you will be immortal. Thank you for shifting my life. Thank you for the long talks. Thank you for loving me. Rest well 💔💔💔
A true legend!! Rest in power Cicely Tyson 🙏🏿❤️ pic.twitter.com/YvzBEjPNUO— Rihanna (@rihanna) January 29, 2021
America has had a lot of great actresses, but none greater than Cicely Tyson. Rest in Power ❤️ pic.twitter.com/Fm73m2LVSm— Cynthia Nixon (@CynthiaNixon) January 29, 2021
Cicely Tyson has passed. She led a pioneering career in film, a remarkable feat for an African American woman born 96 years ago. An Emmy and Tony award winning actress, her career on screen and on stage stretched an incredible seven decades. We will miss you dearly, Cicely. RIP.— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) January 29, 2021