Award-Winning Actor Cicely Tyson Has Died at 96

Christopher Luu
·2 min read

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Emmy- and Tony-winning actress Cicely Tyson has died, Variety reports. Tyson earned an Oscar nomination for her role as the sharecropper's wife in Sounder and was also nominated for a Tony Award in 2013 at age 88. Her TV credits included Roots and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, which earned her two Emmy Awards. Tyson's family announced the news via her manager, Larry Thompson.

"I have managed Miss Tyson's career for over 40 years, and each year was a privilege and blessing," he said. "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."

Tyson started as a model, appearing in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, and made her film debut in 1957, with Twelve Angry Men, though she would consider the 1959 Sidney Poitier film Odds Against Tomorrow to be her official introduction to feature films. She also appeared in The Comedians, The Last Angry Man, and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. 1972's Sounder earned her an Academy Award nomination. She went on to receive an Honorary Oscar in 2018.

In 2013, Tyson won the Tony Award for Best Actress for her role in the revival of A Trip to Bountiful.

Variety notes that throughout her career, Tyson refused to play "drug addicts, prostitutes, or maids." She saw the roles as "demeaning to Black women."

"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.

In 2016, Tyson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, Entertainment Tonight reports.

"In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only succeeded as an actor, she has shaped the whole course of history," he said at the presentation. "Cicely was never the likeliest of Hollywood stars. The daughter of immigrants from the West Indies, she was raised by a hardworking and religious mother who cleaned houses and forbade her children to attend the movies. But once she got her education and broke into the business, Cicely made a conscious decision not just to say lines, but to speak out."

Tyson was married to jazz legend Miles Davis from 1981 to 1988. She is survived by her niece, actor Cathy Tyson. Her memoir, Just As I Am, written with Michelle Burford, was published earlier this week.