She Was a Fighter Who Lived Till 96
Cicely Tyson almost didn't become an actress since her mom never let her watch any cinema or TV, but she paved her own way.
Cicely Tyson, an influential actress and icon, passed away at the age of 96 on January 28, 2021, her longtime manager Larry Thompson confirmed to CNN. Her first memoir, Just As I Am, released just two days before her death. She is known for her iconic roles in celebrated movies and TV shows that featured Black women in prominent roles.
Her filmography includes Sounder (1972), The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), Roots (1977), The Marva Collins Story (1981), The Women of Brewster Place (1989), and The Help (2011). However, there is more to her story than her work, which was revealed through former US President Barack Obama's tribute to her.
"When Cicely Tyson was born, doctors predicted she wouldn’t make it three months because of a murmur in her heart. What they didn’t know, what they couldn’t know, was that Cicely had a heart unlike any other — the kind that would not only beat for 96 more years but leave a mark on the world that few could match," wrote Obama.
He added that she was "one of the rare award-winning actors whose work on the screen was surpassed only by what she was able to accomplish off of it." The actress had not been "destined" for Hollywood as her mom — "a hardworking and religious woman who cleaned houses — didn’t even let her go to the movies." However, once the actress received her education she "made a conscious decision not just to say her lines but to speak her truth."
She refused to pick parts that "reduced Black women to their gender or their race. Sometimes, that meant she would go years without work. But she took pride in knowing that whenever her face was on camera, she would be playing a character who was a human being — flawed but resilient; perfect not despite but because of their imperfections," added Obama.
Hollywood is mourning the actress after her death. Tyler Perry said that he received the news of her death while watching Tyson's television film The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman on a whim. "I was sitting at the table working when I got this overwhelming feeling to watch 'Miss Jane Pittman.'
I hadn’t seen the movie in years. I didn’t even understand the feeling to turn it on, but I did anyway," he wrote in a touching Instagram tribute, as per USA Today. "Not 12 minutes into the movie my phone rang. It was Oprah [Winfrey] calling to tell me that Cicely had died." The news brought him to his knees, he said.
"She called me son. Well, today your son grieves your loss and will miss our long talks, your laughter from your belly, and your very presence. Always so regal, always so classy, always a lady, always a queen," he added.
Winfrey, Viola Davis, and other stars also expressed their grief on losing this icon. "My heart is just broken. I loved you so much!! You were everything to me! You made me feel loved and seen and valued in a world where there is still a cloak of invisibility for us dark chocolate girls. You gave me permission to dream....because it was only in my dreams that I could see the possibilities in myself," Davis wrote.
Before her death, Tyson dedicated her memoir to her daughter, whom she calls "Joan" in her memoir, as per Heavy. She raised her daughter out of the spotlight and described her birth and upbringing, and the way her own career affected Joan's life. She said that she and her child "continue to work on our relationship, as fragile as it is precious." She dedicated the book to her daughter: "the one who has paid the greatest price for this gift to all."
Tyson was known to have been married twice. She divorced her most recent husband, jazz musician Miles Davis, with whom she had a two-decades-long relationship, in 1988.