Cicely Tyson, the ground-breaking actress known for her roles on television, movies and Broadway, died Thursday. She was 96.
Tyson’s career extended until the day she died. Earlier Thursday, she posted about her new memoir, “Just As I Am.” Her publishers released the book two days ago. And just this week, Tyson complimented Amanda Gorman, the young poet who spoke at President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Tyson’s manager announced Thursday afternoon that she had died.
“I have managed Miss Tyson’s career for over 40 years, and each year was a privilege and blessing,” 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.”
No cause of death was announced.
Cicely Tyson Started Her Career With Sidney Poitier
Tyson’s formal movie debut was in “Odds Against Tomorrow” with Sidney Poitier in 1959. Maybe her first significant role was in “Twelve Angry Men,” starring Henry Fonda. She initially lost the role because she was told she was too stylish to play the part of a woman from the slums.
“I went home and got myself up in a costume that was out of this world,” she recalled to Ms. magazine. “I found a skirt that was too big and botched up the hemline. Then I put on a dirty raincoat, sloppy shoes, an old hat, and mussed up my hair.”
When she showed back up to the studio offices, unrecognizable, she nearly was turned away.
Tyson Always Played Strong Women
Cicely Tyson always played strong, Black women, even early in her career when Hollywood wanted to typecast these parts in “blaxploitation” films.
Tyson earned her first Oscar nomination for the 1972 movie, “Sounder.” She was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2018. Tyson was the first Black actress to earn such an honor.
She also saw success on stage. Tyson won a Tony for her starring role in the Broadway revival of “The Trip to Bountiful.”
Tyson Starred In TV Shows “Miss Jane Pittman” And “Roots”
However, she probably was known most for her roles on television. She earned 16 Emmy nominations for her work. The 1974 TV miniseries “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” defined her career. Tyson was the star. Her character narrated the story, from the time she was a young slave until she joined the Civil Rights movement in 1962. Tyson portrayed her character from age 23 until 110. She won two Emmys.
Three years later, Tyson was part of the cast for the iconic mini-series “Roots.” She played Binta, the wife of a Mandinka warrior and mother of Kunta Kinte.
In the 1978 miniseries “King,” she played Coretta Scott King. And she won her third Emmy Award in 1994 for her work in “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.”
Bernice King, daughter of Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King, tweeted about Tyson after hearing the news of her death.
“An elder…now an ancestor. What a vessel,” Bernice King wrote.
Tyson Found New Audiences Late In Life
Tyson found a new audience even later in life when she joined the cast of “How To Get Away With Murder.” She played the mother of Viola Davis’ character.
The Kennedy Center honored Tyson in 2015. Then a year later, Barack Obama honored Cicely Tyson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”
Cicely Tyson wrote of her recently released book:
“Just As I Am is my truth. It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside. In these pages, I am indeed Cicely, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage and screen for six decades.
“Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word. I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and mother, a sister, and a friend. … an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams.
She wrote: “I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, a child of God divinely guided by His hand. And here in my ninth decade, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.”