Actress Cicely Tyson, who specializes in portraying strong black women caught up in life’s struggles during a 60-year career that has won her three Emmy Awards and a Tony Award, died Thursday at the age of 96, a his manager said in a statement.
No cause of death was given. Tyson had recently completed a memoir, Just As I Am, which was published this week.
Tyson’s most beloved performances have come in historical works such as the 1972 film Sounder in which she played the wife of a Louisiana sharecropper. This film earned Tyson her only Oscar nomination, but she received an Honorary Oscar in November 2018.
She also won two Emmys for the same TV movie, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman – one for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Movie and one for Actress of the Year.
The 1974 film covered a woman’s life from slavery to the 1960s.
Tyson picked up another Emmy 20 years later for Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. Among her other nine Emmy nominations were Binta, the mother of slave Kunta Kinte in the revolutionary 1977 miniseries Roots, the wife of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, Coretta, in King, and the inspirational educator of The Marva. Collins Story.
Its director, Larry Thompson, said in a statement that Tyson “viewed his new memoir as a Christmas tree decorated with all the adornments of his personal and professional life.”
“Today she placed the last ornament, a star, at the top of the tree,” he added.
Tyson’s career exploded even in his 80s. In 2011, she was part of the popular film set The Help and in 2013, at age 88, she won a Tony for a Broadway revival of The Trip to Bountiful, the story of a woman returning to her little one. hometown. It was his first time on Broadway in 30 years.
Even after 90 years, Tyson was busy. In 2015, she starred with frequent collaborator James Earl Jones in a Broadway revival of the two-person play The Gin Game. The New York Times reported that Tyson and Jones, who had last appeared on Broadway almost 50 years earlier, had proven “that great talent is ageless and always rewarding.”
In February 2019, at age 94, Tyson was on the cover of The Art of Optimism edition of Time magazine and an interviewer asked her if she had considered retiring. “And do what?” was his answer.
‘We still hold’
Tyson said she has used her career to tackle issues important to her, such as race and gender.
“I realized very early on when I was asked certain questions or treated in a certain way that I had to use my career to solve these problems,” she said in an interview with People magazine in 2015.
Tyson told CBS she sees the Hollywood hierarchy as a ladder with white men at the top, followed by white women and black men. The black women were downstairs.
“And we’re hanging on to the bottom rung,” she said. “And those fists are trampled by all three above and we still hold on.
Actress Viola Davis said she was “devastated” by the news of the death of Tyson, who played the mother of Davis’ character in the TV legal drama How to Get Away with Murder from 2015 to 2020.
“You were everything to me!” Davis wrote on Instagram. “You made me feel loved, seen and appreciated in a world where there is still a cloak of invisibility for us dark chocolate girls.
LeVar Burton, who played Kunta Kinte in Roots, praised his “first screen mom”.
“Elegance, warmth, beauty, wisdom, style and abundant grace,” Burton wrote on Twitter. “She was as royal as they come.”
This one cuts deeply. @IAmCicelyTyson was my first screen mom. Elegance, warmth, beauty, wisdom, style and abundant grace. She was as royal as they come. First-rate artist, I will love him forever… ♥ ️ RIP pic.twitter.com/69Awj7qI8o
– LeVar Burton (@levarburton) January 29, 2021
‘She chose to empower us’
Tyson was born in December 1924 in New York City and raised in the Harlem neighborhood, the daughter of immigrants from the West Indies. She was a secretary and model before taking acting jobs in the 1950s. In the early 1960s, she became one of the first black actors to appear regularly on American television, playing the role of secretary to George C. Scott in the East Side, West Side series.
One of his first roles was in The Blacks, an off-Broadway race production that helped boost the careers of Jones, Maya Angelou, Louis Gossett Jr, Godfrey Cambridge and Roscoe Lee Brown.
Tyson starred as a prostitute in two other plays in the 1960s before deciding to take a stand.
“After that I was offered the role of another whore and I said no because I didn’t want to be classified and because it was humiliating for black women,” she told the New York Times.
Tyson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2016. When she received a Kennedy Center Honor in December 2005, filmmaker-writer Tyler Perry said, “She chose to empower us when we didn’t even know not that it was possible to be empowered. Cicely refused to play a role that would not improve humanity.
Tyson was married to jazz trumpet legend Miles Davis from 1981 to 1988 and Davis, who died in 1991, put her on the cover of his album Sorcerer.
Their marriage was difficult, troubled by reports of her allegations of outbreak, domestic violence and drug addiction. But in a 2015 CBS interview, Tyson said, “I don’t really talk about it but I will say this: I cherish every moment I spent with him.”