Icon of stage and screen, actress Cicely Tyson died January 28, 2021 at the age of 96. Announcing the death, the family gave no further details.
Born in Harlem, she became a pioneer in Hollywood and on the stage; choosing to take roles that had some meaning and not just anything that came along for the money.
Once noting that age was just a number, Tyson continued to work even appearing in an episode of “How to Get Away with Murder” last year.
She began her career not on the stage, but on the runway as a model.
Tyson made her Broadway debut in 1959 as the understudy in “Jolly’s Progress”. From there she went on to appear in “The Cool World”, “Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright”, “A Hand is on the Gate”, “Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights”, “Trumpets of the Lord”, “The Corn is Green”, “The Trip to Bountiful”, and “The Gin Games”.
She made her acting debut in 1951 as Tony in the television series “Frontiers of Faith”. From there she went on to appear in nearly 100 film and television productions including “East Side/West Side”, an episode of the daytime drama “Guiding Light”, “Medical Center”, “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”, “Mission: Impossible”, “Sounder”, “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman”, the first episode of “Roots” as Binta – the mother of Kunta, as Coretta Scott King in “King”, “A Woman Called Moses”, “The Women of Brewster Place”, “Fried Green Tomatoes”, “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All”, “Sweet Justice”, “Touched by an Angel”, “The Rosa Parks Story”, Aunt Rose in “Madea’s Family Reunion”, “The Help”, “The Trip to Bountiful”, “House of Cards”, and “How to Get Away with Murder”.
As herself, Tyson as appeared on game shows, talk shows, variety shows, award shows, documentaries, and was a judge on an episode of “Star Search”.
While an Academy Award win eluded her, she was presented with an honourary Oscar in 2018. Tyson’s awards include two Emmy Awards to her credit; along with, a Tony Award for her role in “The Trip to Bountiful” at the age of 88 – making her the oldest actors to win the award -, a Drama Desk Award, a Vernon Rice Award for her performance in the Off Broadway production “Moon on a Rainbow”, and has been inducted into the Theater and Black Filmmakers Halls of Fame. In 2016, President Barack Obama presented Tyson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
When she won the Emmy Award for her role in the “Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman”, she became the first woman of colour to win the award for a leading role.
A first generation American, she was born December 19, 1924 in Harlem, New York to Caribbean Island parents. The youngest of three, Cicely was only nine years old when she worked her first job of selling shopping bags on the streets of Harlem. Before beginning her acting career, she worked as a secretary.
She is a co-founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Married and divorced to jazz legend Miles Davis, the couple had no children. No list of survivors was released.
feature photo credit: By David Shankbone – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19229092