Pioneering Actress Cicely Tyson Dies at 96



Dimas Sanfiorenzo

Dimas Sanfiorenzo is the Managing Editor for Okayplayer. He specializes…

Cicely Tyson pink smiling

Photo Credit: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Cicely Tyson was one of the most decorated actresses to ever live.

Legendary actress Cicely Tyson died on Thursday afternoon (January 28th.) She was 96 years old. A cause of death has not been released. 

The news was confirmed by her longtime manager Larry Thompson who released the following statement. 

“I have managed Miss Tyson’s career for over 40 years, and each year was a privilege and blessing. 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 memoir Thompson is speaking of is Just as I Am: A Memoir, which was published just two days ago. For more than 70 years, Tyson has been a pioneering figure in television, theater, and movies. She originally started out as a model, launching her career with Ebony magazine in the 1940s. By the 1960s she transitioned fully into acting, becoming the first African American to star in a television drama, appearing on East Side/West Side from 1963 to 64. Her career in film took off in 1972, when she starred in Sounder, a movie she would get an Academy Award nomination for. Two years later, she would win two Emmys for the television film The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

From there Tyson would go on to have a long television career that spanned multiple decades. She appeared in Roots, King, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Lesson Before Dying, How to Get Away with Murder. and more. Throughout those years she would pick about an additional 14 Emmy nominations (and another win for her work in Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, in 1994).

She also appeared in numerous movies throughout the years,  having important roles in Hoodlum, Idlewild, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, and The Help. ( In 2018, she was given an honorary Oscar.) 

In 2013 she would return to the stage for the first time since the 1960s. She appeared in The Trip to Bountiful and won her first Tony award. By 2016 she was one of the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. At that ceremony, President Barack Obama said: “In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only exceeded as an actor, she has shaped the course of history.

Tyson was married twice in her lifetime, to Kenneth Franklin, from 1942 to 1956, and then later on to jazz giant Miles Davis from 1981 to 1988. She leaves behind a daughter, Joan. 

 



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