Cicely Tyson, groundbreaking award-winning actress, dead at 96

Award-winning actress Cicely Tyson died on Thursday at age 96, her family confirmed in a statement

Award-winning actress Cicely Tyson died on Thursday at age 96, her family confirmed in a statement

 Award-winning actress Cicely Tyson died on Thursday at age 96, her family confirmed in a statement

Legendary award-winning actress Cicely Tyson, known for her onscreen portrayals of strong black women, has died at the age of 96.

Tyson’s family announced her death on Thursday in a statement via her manager Larry Thompson.

‘With heavy heart, the family of Miss Cicely Tyson announces her peaceful transition this afternoon. At this time, please allow the family their privacy,’ Thompson said. No cause of death was given.

Tyson, who had just turned 96 in December, had received numerous accolades during the course of her screen and stage career that spanned over six decades.

She had recently said in interviews that she had no plans to retire, and had continued taking on film and television roles up until her death.  

Days before her passing, Tyson released her new memoir, Just As I Am, which she promoted in an appearance on CBS This Morning with Gayle King this week. 

She was due to reprise her role as Miss Luma Lee Langston in the second season of OWN series Cherish the Day that premiered last February. 

Tyson had also recently starred in Tyler Perry’s 2020 Netflix thriller, A Fall from Grace, her final movie role before her death.  

Tributes from Broadway and Hollywood poured in in the wake of her passing, including from Broadway star Tracie Thomas, who thanked her for paving the way. ‘A queen and a trailblazer indeed,’ she wrote on Twitter.

Besides her Oscar nomination, she won two Emmys for playing the 110-year-old former slave in the 1974 television drama 'The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.'

Besides her Oscar nomination, she won two Emmys for playing the 110-year-old former slave in the 1974 television drama 'The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.'

Tyson accepts her Honorary Academy Award in 2018

Tyson accepts her Honorary Academy Award in 2018

Besides her Oscar nomination, she won two Emmys for playing the 110-year-old former slave in the 1974 television drama ‘The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.’

President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to actress Cicely Tyson in November 2016

President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to actress Cicely Tyson in November 2016

President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to actress Cicely Tyson in November 2016

Tyson gained an Oscar nomination for her role as the sharecropper's wife in 1972 film Sounder (pictured)

Tyson gained an Oscar nomination for her role as the sharecropper's wife in 1972 film Sounder (pictured)

In 1974 she touched TV viewers' hearts as the titular role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

In 1974 she touched TV viewers' hearts as the titular role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

Tyson was known for her portrayals of strong black women and gained an Oscar nomination for her role as the sharecropper’s wife in 1972 film Sounder (left). In 1974 she touched TV viewers’ hearts as the titular role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (right)

Former co-star Marlee Matlin wrote: ‘She was a consummate pro and all class.’ Director Kenny Leon added: ‘God bless the greatest and the tallest tree.’ 

A onetime model, Tyson began her screen career with bit parts but gained fame in the early 1970s when black women were finally starting to get starring roles.  

‘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.

Besides her Oscar nomination, she won two Emmys for playing the 110-year-old former slave in the 1974 television drama ‘The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.’ 

A new generation of moviegoers saw her in the 2011 hit ‘The Help.’ In 2018, she was given an honorary Oscar statuette at the annual Governors Awards. ‘This is a culmination of all those years of haves and have nots,’ Tyson said.

She was one of the recipients for the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. 

At that ceremony, President Barack Obama said: ‘Cicely’s convictions and grace have helped for us to see the dignity of every single beautiful memory of the American family.’

Sounder, based on the William H. Hunter novel, was the film that confirmed her stardom in 1972. Tyson was cast as the Depression-era loving wife of a sharecropper (Paul Winfield) who is confined in jail for stealing a piece of meat for his family. She is forced to care for their children and attend to the crops.

The New York Times reviewer wrote: ‘She passes all of her easy beauty by to give us, at long last, some sense of the profound beauty of millions of black women.’ 

Tyson went on to earn an Academy Award nomination as best actress of 1972.

In an interview on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel, she recalled that she had been asked to test for a smaller role in the film and said she wanted to play the mother, Rebecca. 

She was told, ‘You’re too young, you’re too pretty, you’re too sexy, you’re too this, you’re too that, and I said, ‘I am an actress.”

Zendaya pays tribute to Cicely Tyson

Zendaya pays tribute to Cicely Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson paid tribute to Tyson on social media after news broke of her passing Thursday

Neil deGrasse Tyson paid tribute to Tyson on social media after news broke of her passing Thursday

Actress Zendaya and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson paid tribute to Tyson on social media after news broke of her passing Thursday

The iconic actress received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997. She is pictured above at the ceremony alongside actor Laurence Fishburne and former California State Senator Diane Watson

The iconic actress received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997. She is pictured above at the ceremony alongside actor Laurence Fishburne and former California State Senator Diane Watson

The iconic actress received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997. She is pictured above at the ceremony alongside actor Laurence Fishburne and former California State Senator Diane Watson 

In 2013, at the age of 88, Tyson won the Tony for best leading actress in a play for the revival of Horton Foote’s ‘The Trip to Bountiful.’ 

It was the actress’s first time back on Broadway in three decades and she refused to turn meekly away when the teleprompter told to finish her acceptance speech.

”Please wrap it up,” it says. Well, that’s exactly what you did with me: You wrapped me up in your arms after 30 years,’ she told the crowd.

She told The AP afterward she had prepared no speech – ‘I think it’s presumptuous’ – and that ‘I burned up half my time wondering what I was going to say.’ 

She reprised her role in a Lifetime Television movie, which was screened at the White House.

In the 1974 television drama ‘The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,’ based on a novel by Ernest J. Gaines, Tyson is seen aging from a young woman in slavery to a 110-year-old who campaigned for the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

In the touching climax, she laboriously walks up to a ‘whites only’ water fountain and takes a drink as white officers look on.

‘It’s important that they see and hear history from Miss Jane’s point of view,’ Tyson told The New York Times. ‘And I think they will be more ready to accept it from her than from someone younger.’

New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael offered her praise: ‘She’s an actress, all right, and as tough-minded and honorable in her methods as any we’ve got.’

At the Emmy Awards, ‘Pittman’ won multiple awards, including two honors for Tyson, best lead actress in a drama and best actress in a special.

‘People ask me what I prefer doing – film, stage, television? I say, ‘I would have done ‘Jane Pittman’ is the basement or in a storefront.’ It’s the role that determines where I go,’ she told the AP.

Actress Cicely Tyson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is pictured, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in Los Angeles

Actress Cicely Tyson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is pictured, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in Los Angeles

Actress Cicely Tyson’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is pictured, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in Los Angeles

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