Cicely Tyson, a legenary and pioneering actress who garnered an Oscar nomination for her role as the sharecropper’s wife in Sounder and won a Tony Award in 2013 at age 88, passed away on Thursday.
She was 96 years old.
“With heavy heart, the family of Miss Cicely Tyson announces her peaceful transition this afternoon. At this time, please allow the family their privacy,” read a statement issued the late star’s manager.
No other details were provided at the time, including Tyson’s cause of death.
The actress rose to fame in the early 1970s, becoming one of the first African-American stars to earn significant movie roles.
Along with her Oscar nod, Tyson won a pair of Emmys for playing a 110-year-old former slave in the 1974 television drama The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.
The news of Tyson’s passing hit Hollywood hard, but it went beyond that as well.
“When Cicely Tyson was born, doctors predicted she wouldn’t make it three months because of a murmur in her heart,” Barack Obama wrote last night in a lengthy and heartfelt statement..
“What they didn’t know, what they couldn’t know, was that Cicely had a heart unlike any other.
“The kind that would not only beat for 96 more years but leave a mark on the world that few could match.”
The 44th President of the United States continued by acknowledging Tyson’s incredible work, her upbringing, and her passion to “speak her truth,” adding:
“At a time when parts for actors who looked like her weren’t easy to come by, she refused to take on roles that reduced Black women to their gender or their race.
“Sometimes, that meant she would go years without work.
“But she took pride in knowing that whenever her face was on camera, she would be playing a character who was a human being — flawed but resilient; perfect not despite but because of their imperfections.”
President Obama also wrote that Tyson “helped us see the dignity within all who made up our miraculous — and, yes, messy — American family.”
He sent thoughts and prayers and concluded:
Michelle and I were honored when Cicely came to the White House to accept the Medal of Freedom, knowing she was one of the many giants upon whose shoulders we stood.
A trailblazer whose legacy couldn’t be measured by her Emmys and Tony and Oscar alone, but by the barriers she broke and the dreams she made possible.
The former First Lady also posted two photos of herself with Tyson, writing how in awe she was Tyson’s “humanity.”
“Just by walking into a room, she had this way of elevating everyone around her. She was the personification of beauty, grace, wisdom, and strength,” Michelle Obama shared.
“Carrying forward a flame that not only guided her for 96 pathbreaking years but lit the way for so many of us.”
Mrs. Obama concluded that she will “miss [Tyson] dearly,” but “smile knowing how many people she inspired, just like me, to walk a little taller, speak a little more freely, and live a little bit more like God intended.”
In 2016, Tyson was among a group of 21 actors, musicians, athletes and innovators awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Obama.
The medal is the nation’s highest civilian honor and Tyson received hers alongside Ellen DeGeneres, Diana Ross, Michael Jordan and Bruce Springsteen.
Said Obama during this presentation:
“In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only succeeded as an actor, she has shaped the whole course of history.
“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.”
May this legend rest in peace.
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