Cicely Tyson has passed at the age of 96 years old. Tyson was an iconic actress that shattered stereotypes and paved the way for women of color in Hollywood. She was the epitome of talent, beauty, and grace. The Black actress broke glass ceilings and was the first African American to star in a television drama with the series East Side/West Side (1963). In 1977 she went on to star in the historic mini-series about a slave named Kunta Kinte called Roots where she Binta, his mother. For over the last 6 decades Tyson has starred in countless films and TV shows and was a talented Broadway and Jazz singer. The activist was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama in November 2016. In 2018, Tyson was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame and just last year she was chosen to be inducted into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame. She will go down in history as was one of the most talented and important actresses to have ever lived.
The actress passed away just 2 days after releasing her memoir “Just As I Am.” Her manager Larry Thompson said in a statement, “Cicely thought of her new memoir as a Christmas tree decorated with all the ornaments of her personal and professional life. Today she placed the last ornament, a Star, on top of the tree.” In the last pages of the book, she revealed what she hopes her legacy would be whenever she was called back home: “I want to feel as if I embodied our humanity so fully that it made us laugh and weep, that it reminded us of our shared frailties,” she wrote. “I want to be recalled as one who squared my shoulders in the service of Black women, as one who made us walk taller and envision greater for ourselves.” You can purchase her memoir here:
“With heavy heart, the family of Miss Cicely Tyson announces her peaceful transition this afternoon,” Tyson‘s family said in a statement from her manager. Thomas was awarded the United States’ highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Barack Obama in November 2016. In 2018, Tyson was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame and just last year she was inducted into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame.
Excited to see my book, #JustAsIAm, on @BookSparks 2021 Winter Reading Challenge – Let’s kickoff the new year with this winter's hottest books! #WRC2021https://t.co/7w4oDP6Bvlpic.twitter.com/aDzRtnz0UZ— Cicely Tyson (@IAmCicelyTyson) January 28, 2021
Born in Harlem in 1924 to immigrant parents from Nevis in the West Indies, Tyson was discovered by a photographer for Ebony magazine and started her career as a successful fashion model. She was around 30 at the time, and had experienced a lot in life, having been pregnant at 17, and forced to marry her Childs father when she was 18 (they eventually divorced) per, The Washington Post. She was discovered during her lunch break in 1943 when a “Black man decked out in a business suit and a scarlet bowtie tapped me on the shoulder.” He asked if she was a model, and the rest is history.
She went on to appear in minor film and television roles, with her first film role being Carib Gold in 1956. In 1972 she made it clear she was at the forefront of talented actress with her performance as “Rebecca Morgan” in Sounder. The performance earned her both the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. Two years later she starred in the 1974 television film The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and won two Emmys for her performance. She was also praised for her 2011 performance in the award-winning film The Help starring Emma Stone where she played “Constantine Jefferson.” Tyson went on to guest star in How to Get Away with Murder since it started in 2014. She was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series five times for her performance.
Celebrities reacted to her death on social media, including Rihanna who shared a photo of Tyson and wrote, ”A true legend!! Rest in power Cicely Tyson.” Levar Burton, the actor who played Kunta Kinte shared a still from the film on Twitter and wrote, “This one cuts deep. [Cicely Tyson] was my first screen Mom... Elegance, warmth, beauty, wisdom, style, and abundant grace. She was as regal as they come. An artist of the highest order, I will love her forever…RIP” Tyler Perry also shared photos with Tyson and wrote a heartfelt message in the caption, revealing that Oprah Winfrey called him to tell him about her passing.
This one cuts deep. @IAmCicelyTyson was my first screen Mom.. Elegance, warmth, beauty, wisdom, style and abundant grace. She was as regal as they come. An artist of the highest order, I will love her forever... ♥️ RIP pic.twitter.com/69Awj7qI8o— LeVar Burton (@levarburton) January 29, 2021
A true legend!! Rest in power Cicely Tyson 🙏🏿❤️ pic.twitter.com/YvzBEjPNUO— Rihanna (@rihanna) January 29, 2021