Pioneering Hollywood actress Cicely Tyson, who was known for portraying strong and dynamic African-American characters, has died at the age of 96.
Tyson’s death was announced by her family, via her manager Larry Thompson, who did not immediately provide additional details.
“With heavy heart, the family of Miss Cicely Tyson announces her peaceful transition this afternoon. At this time, please allow the family their privacy,” according to a statement issued through Thompson.
A onetime model, Tyson began her screen career with bit parts but gained fame in the early 1970s when Black women were finally starting to get starring roles. Tyson refused to take parts simply for the paycheck, remaining choosey.
“I’m very selective as I’ve been my whole career about what I do. Unfortunately, I’m not the kind of person who works only for money. It has to have some real substance for me to do it,” she told The Associated Press in 2013.
Tributes from two former presidents and from across the worlds of Hollywood and Broadway poured in, with many praising her careful approach to her career and activism.
“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,” wrote former President Barack Obama, who awarded Tyson the Medal of Freedom in 2016.
Former President Bill Clinton wrote online that Tyson “brought complex characters to life with dignity and heart, and humanity and depth, always remaining true to herself.”
“She used her career to illuminate the humanity in Black people. The roles she played reflected her values,” wrote Oprah Winfrey.
Tyson’s memoir, “Just As I Am,” was published this week.
Besides her Oscar nomination, she won two Emmys for playing the 110-year-old former slave in the 1974 television drama ‘The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.’ A new generation of moviegoers saw her in the 2011 hit ‘The Help.’
In 2018, she was given an honorary Oscar statuette at the annual Governors Awards. “I come from lowly status. I grew up in an area that was called the slums at the time,” Tyson said at the time. “I still cannot imagine that I have met with presidents, kings, queens. How did I get here? I marvel at it.”
“Sounder,” based on the William H. Hunter novel, was the film that confirmed her stardom in 1972. Tyson was cast as the Depression-era loving wife of a sharecropper (Paul Winfield) who is confined in jail for stealing a piece of meat for his family. She is forced to care for their children and attend to the crops.
Her performance evoked rave reviews, and Tyson won an Academy Award nomination as best actress of 1972.
In 2013, at the age of 88, Tyson won the Tony for best leading actress in a play for the revival of Horton Foote’s “The Trip to Bountiful.” It was the actor’s first time back on Broadway in three decades and she refused to turn meekly away when the teleprompter told to finish her acceptance speech.
Her fame transcended all media. Apple CEO Tim Cook took to Twitter to praise Tyson as a “pioneer with purpose. Cicely Tyson’s talent redefined theater, film and television. Her courage, resilience and grace changed the entertainment landscape for generations to come.”
Rihanna called her “a true legend.” Neil deGrasse Tyson called her “a force of nature unto herself” and Shonda Rhimes said “her power and grace will be with us forever.”