Cicely Tyson, an award-winning entertainment icon who broke barriers for black actresses, died Thursday. She was 96.
“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.”
The actress published her first memoir, “Just As I Am,” which was released on Tuesday.
Tyson embodied the struggles of African-American women and her performances often demanded mainstream appeal. She played the roles of suppressed women whether that be former slaves, civil rights icons, sharecroppers and mothers with a sense of pride and strength, along with feeling out each character as her own.
After starring in stage productions, Tyson broke into movies with the 1959 Harry Belafonte film “Odds Against Tomorrow,” followed by “The Comedians;” “The Last Angry Man;” “A Man Called Adam;” and “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.”
Over three decades later, Tyson got involved with some of Hollywood’s most celebrated movies and television shows of Black women featured in major roles, such as “Sounder” (1972); “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (1974); and “Roots” (1977). Her body of work continued for into the next two decade, along with the new millennium with “The Marva Collins Story” (1981); “The Women of Brewster Place” (1989); and “The Help” (2011).
Tyson’s most-recent work featured her on ABC’s critically-acclaimed series “How to get away with murder” from 2014 until last year. She was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series five times for her ongoing role as Ophelia Harkness on the show.
She won three Primetime Emmy’s during her career, and was a 17-time Emmy nominee for various roles over the span of 46 years.
Tyson also starred as Carrie Watts in the Broadway play “The Trip to Bountiful”, winning a Tony Award for best actress in 2013. She was also named a Kennedy Center honoree in 2015. The crowning accomplishment for the icon came in 2016 when she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, the highest civilian honor in the United States.
In 2020, Tyson was given a Peabody Award for her career achievements and was also inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.