Cicely Tyson, the Emmy and Tony-winning actress who set a standard for grace among Black actresses through her near seven-decade career, has passed away. Her manager, Larry Thompson confirmed to Variety the legendary actress passed on Thursday (January 28). She was 96.
“I have managed Miss Tyson’s career for over 40 years, and each year was a privilege and blessing,” 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.”
Choosing not to play “demeaning characters” such as drug addicts, prostitutes or maids, Tyson pushed herself into roles where the depth was key and she delivered memorable performances for years. She won a Tony award for her starring role in a revival of “The Trip to Bountiful” and on the small screen, she broke barriers.
She was the first Black actress to have a recurring role on a drama series in East Side/West Side and when it came time for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, she took home two Emmys for her critically-acclaimed performance. She was nominated 16 times throughout her illustrious career, including a win in the Best Supporting Actress category in 1994. She was nominated for an Emmy for a guest appearance on ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder in 2020.
She became the first Black woman to receive an Honorary Oscar in 2018, some 45 years after she was nominated for her role in Martin Ritt’s drama Sounder.
As the years progressed, Tyson found herself frequently cast in films from director Tyler Perry and the generation of filmmakers, actors and actresses whom she had influenced. In 1997, she starred in Hoodlum, a story about Black gangsters during Prohibition. She also made appearances in Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion, Why Did I Get Married Too, Idlewild and The Help.