An icon has joined the ancestors.
Cicely Tyson, the Emmy- and Tony-award winning actress who broke down racial barriers in television, theatre, and film, has died at the age of 96-years-old.
Tyson was born in East Harlem on Dec. 19, 1924, the second youngest of three children of William and Theodosia Tyson, immigrants from the Caribbean island of Nevis. Her father was a carpenter and painter, and her mother was a domestic worker. When she was 10 her parents separated, and the children were raised by their mother who, as a strict Christian, did not permit movies or dates
She went on to graduate from Charles Evans Hughes High School and become a model, appearing in fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. She studied at the Actors Studio in the 1940s and landed first role on NBC’s “Frontiers of Faith” in 1951.
“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.”
Her memoir, Just As I Am, which debuted on Jan. 26, 2021, detailed her life from her humble beginnings as a dancer, her iconic rise to fame, and even her marriage to Miles Davis. Last year she spoke about how her experiences shaped her life.
“Every one of my experiences on the public stage has been rooted in my upbringing, those years spent at my mother’s elbow and in the pews of my church,” Tyson said. “That was my world. And that foundation, that core, led me to a lifetime of growth – a wondrous journey that has made me who I am.”
If you watch anything today, please watch this magnificent profile on the icon @IAmCicelyTyson. I smiled, cried and am inspired beyond words. She’s a dream of a woman and an artist. 96 years wise. Her must-read memoir just debuted. It is luminous, like her.pic.twitter.com/FuTNu90bcO
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) January 27, 2021advertisement
She refused to be pigeonholed into the stereotypical roles available to Black people at the time, turning down scripts that cast her as a drug addict, prostitute, or maid.
#JustAsIAm is my truth. It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside. And now on my journey to becoming a centenarian, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say. –CT
— Cicely Tyson (@IAmCicelyTyson) January 11, 2021
Her star shone brightly throughout the decades. In 2018 when she was selected to receive an honorary Academy Award, the first Black woman to receive the distinction, Tyson selected Ava DuVernay to present it to her. The next year, she was-selected by DuVernay, to cover TIME’s second Optimists issue.
The world was shocked to hear of her passing with the internet collectively grieving on social media.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) January 29, 2021
I’m shook up right now. I literally spoke to Cicely Tyson last week and she was so warm and fuzzy.
At least I’m done teaching for the night and I can have a good cry if I need it.
— Morgan Jerkins (@MorganJerkins) January 29, 2021advertisement
I rewatched “Sounder” recently. And, I had to find this scene. Cicely Tyson’s restraint and quiet anger here. Whew! pic.twitter.com/SjB8U3OWzhadvertisement
— ArrestElizabethFromKnoxville (@KirkWrites79) January 29, 2021
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/69Awj7qI8oadvertisement
— LeVar Burton (@levarburton) January 29, 2021
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She epitomized what it meant to be an icon. While her presence will be missed, her impact and legacy will live on forever.
Photo Credit: The New York Times and MEFEater