Cicely Tyson, the legendary and pioneering actress who won seemingly every award possible for her stirring portrayals of strong Black women on the big and small screens and stage alike, has died at the age of 96. Tyson died Thursday, according to the Associated Press, which confirmed the news with the late actress’ manager.
“With heavy heart, the family of Miss Cicely Tyson announces her peaceful transition this afternoon,” Larry Thompson told the AP in a brief statement. “At this time, please allow the family their privacy.”
Despite her age, Tyson stayed working through last year, capping off an enviable career that began a half-century ago.
“Tyson, who became something of a fashion star and hair inspiration in the last years of her life, was best known for her work in films like Sounder, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, as well as The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, which garnered her two Emmy awards. In recent years, she had a resurgence in popularity, appearing in films like The Help, shows like How to Get Away With Murder, and won a Tony for her work in 2013 in the Broadway play The Trip to Bountiful.”
While she never won the Academy Award for which she was nominated, she took home an honorary Oscar in 2018, becoming the first Black woman to earn the honor.
Other notable and memorable roles that Tyson excelled at include, but certainly are not limited to, are playing Binta in “Roots,” Sweets in “A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich,” Constantine Jefferson in “The Help,” and, most recently, Ophelia Harkness on the hit TV show, “How To Get Away With Murder.”
Tyson always showcased her inimitable acting range, accepting roles from the solemn (as Harriet Tubman in “A Woman Called Moses”) to the frivolous (Myrtle in “Madea’s Family Reunion”). But one constant was her persistent excellence no matter the character she was portraying.
She was equally as impressive away from the acting set, ultimately being bestowed with the Presidential medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.
Tyson recently released her memoir, “Just As I Am,” which delves into the Harlem native’s introduction to the performing arts, her career as a dancer and her pivot to acting. Aside from highlighting the barriers that Tyson has broken in the industry, the book takes a deep look into her personal life; candidly chronicling the friendships that she developed with influential individuals whose work stood at the intersection of the arts and social justice including Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte, Maya Angelou, Aretha Franklin and others. In “Just As I Am,” she also writes about her connections to creatives in the industry now, like Ava DuVernay, Shonda Rhimes and Viola Davis, who are standing on the shoulders of the trailblazers that paved the way.
Keep reading to see a glimpse of Cicely Tyson’s legendary life in photos.
Cicely Tyson poses for a portrait wearing a cornrow hairstyle in circa 1973.
2. Emmy AwardsSource:Getty
Cicely Tyson holds the two Emmy Awards that she won for her performance in “The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman” on May 28, 1974, in Los Angeles.
3. American Film InstituteSource:Getty
Sidney Poitier with Cicely Tyson.
4. Honorary doctorate from Atlanta UniversitySource:Getty
Cicely Tyson greets fans after being awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Atlanta University, an HBCU now known as Clark Atlanta University, in 1970.
5. To Be Young, Gifted And Black GalaSource:Getty
(from left) Cicely Tyson, James Baldwin, a guest and singer Harry Belafonte attend To Be Young, Gifted And Black Gala on January 2, 1969, at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York City.
6. Presidential Medals of FreedomSource:Getty
President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Cicely Tyson in 2016 at the White House.
In the 1970s TV mini-series “ROOTS,” Cicely Tyson is sown playing Binta next to Maya Angelou, welcoming the birth of main character Kunta Kinte.
8. Macys Thanksgiving Day ParadeSource:Getty
Cicely Tyson attends the 88th Annual Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 27, 2014, in New York City.
9. East Harlem HousesSource:Getty
Cicely Tyson greets a relative in the crowd gathered for the opening of newly renovated East Harlem houses in Manhattan on June 8, 1994. Tyson had lived in one of the buildings as a child.
10. Cicely Tyson And Vernon JordanSource:Getty
Cicely Tyson and lawyer, business executive and civil rights activist Vernon Jordan having a conversation at a Capital Press Club dinner, Washington, D.C., May 6, 1974.
11. “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman”Source:Getty
Cicely Tyson plays a former slave in the film, “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” and drinking from a segregated water fountain marked Whites Only, January 4, 1974.
12. “The Gin Game” Broadway Opening NightSource:Getty
James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson take a bow during the curtain call for the Broadway opening night of “The Gin Game” at the John Golden Theatre on October 14, 2015, in New York City.
13. Morgan State UniversitySource:Getty
Cicely Tyson receives an honorary degree at Morgan State University in , Baltimore in 1979.
14. “Bustin’ Loose”Source:Getty
Richard Pryor and Cicely Tyson appear in a scene from the movie “Bustin’ Loose” which was released in 1981.
15. Hollywood Walk Of FameSource:Getty
Cicely Tyson is honored with hand and footprint ceremony at TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX on April 27, 2018, in Hollywood, California.
16. Cicely Tyson and Miles DavisSource:Getty
Cicely Tyson and Miles Davis circa 1983 in New York City.
Cicely Tyson is photographed in 1976 in New York City.
18. Lena Horne and Cicely TysonSource:Getty
Cicely Tyson shares the spotlight with Lena Horne after Lena’s Broadway opening.
19. 50th Annual Academy AwardsSource:Getty
Cicely Tyson and guest at the 50th Annual Academy Awards.
20. The Juilliard School 111th Commencement CeremonySource:Getty
Cicely Tyson attends The Juilliard School 111th Commencement Ceremony at Juilliard School on May 20, 2016, in New York City.
Actors Paul Winfield, Eric Hooks and Cicely Tyson in a scene from the movie ‘Sounder’, 1972.
22. EBONY 2nd Annual Oscar CelebrationSource:Getty
Honoree Cicely Tyson gives a speech at the 2nd Annual EBONY Oscar Celebration at the Henson Studios on March 2, 2006, in Hollywood, California. The annual pre-Oscar “Hollywood in Harlem” party honors African Americans who continue to make a difference in the world of film and television.
23. Cicely Tyson and Phyllis GeorgeSource:Getty
Television personality Phyllis George and actress Cicely Tyson.
24. Ray Charles’ FuneralSource:Getty
Cicely Tyson speaks during Ray Charles’ funeral service held at the First AME Church Los Angeles on June 18, 2004, in Los Angeles.
25. Debbie Allen and Cicely TysonSource:Getty
Debbie Allen and Cicely Tyson arrive at the Broadhurst Thea for Opening Night of “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof .”
26. I Have A Dream Foundation “Spirit of the Dream” GalaSource:Getty
Cicely Tyson appears with former New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins at the I Have A Dream Foundation “Spirit of the Dream” Gala at Gotham Hall on June 9, 2015, in New York City.
27. Annual Governors AwardsSource:Getty
Cicely Tyson accepts an honorary Oscar at the 10th Annual Governors Awards gala hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the Dolby Theater at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, California on November 18, 2018.
28. Critics’ Choice Movie AwardsSource:Getty
Cicely Tyson arrives for the 17th annual Critics’ Choice Movie Awards at the Hollywood Palladium in Hollywood, California January 12, 2012.
29. Saturday Night LiveSource:Getty
Cicely Tyson and Garrett Morris as shown during the ‘Black Perspective’ skit on February 10, 1979, on “Saturday Night Live.”
30. Cicely Tyson and Rosa ParksSource:Getty
Cicely Tyson with Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks shows off the Wonder Woman Foundation’s special 1984 Eleanor Roosevelt Woman of Courage Award presented to her on November 14, 1984. Tyson presented the award for Parks’ work in the Civil Rights movement.
31. 49TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDSSource:Getty
Cicely Tyson at the 49th Annual Academy Awards March 28, 1977.