Hollywood Icon Cicely Tyson Dies, Aged 96

Cicely Tyson

by James White |
Published on

Cicely Tyson, a trailblazing actor who refused to compromise in her career and won a host of Emmy and Tony Awards, has died. She was 96.

Born in Harlem, New York in 1924, Tyson initially worked as a secretary for the American Red Cross before finding work as a model. She became a big success, appearing in titles such as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. Though she hadn't been allowed to see plays or movies by her strict mother, she jumped to acting and studied at the Actors Studio. And while it meant she didn't talk to her mother for two years, she knew she'd found her calling.

Tyson started out on the stage, winning awards for various performances and becoming one of the founders of the Dance Theater of Harlem. Between her theater work, she began to appear on television, winning the first-ever recurring role for a Black woman in a drama series on East Side/West Side. Her awards haul continued with Emmys for 1974’s The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman. She was nominated a total of 16 times in her career, also winning for supporting actress in 1994 for an adaptation of Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. Tyson was also nominated five times for guest actress in a drama for How To Get Away With Murder. Refusing to take roles as maids or prostitutes, or anything that would cast African Americans in a bad light. Her TV CV also includes Roots, Mission: Impossible, Sweet Justice, House Of Cards and Cherish The Day.

While her work was primarily on small screens, Tyson also scored some notable film roles, including her debut in Twelve Angry Men, Sidney Poitier's Odds Against Tomorrow, The Comedians, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, and Sounder (for which she was Oscar-nominated). Other movies included The Help, A Hero Ain't Nothin' But A Sandwich and several Tyler Perry productions.

Rarely out of work, Tyson had been on a press tour (virtually) for her new memoir, Just As I Am, which was published this week.

"I have managed Miss Tyson’s career for over 40 years, and each year was a privilege and blessing," her manager, Larry Thompson, said in a statement. "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."

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