Screen and stage legend Cicely Tyson has passed away at 96

One of my greatest childhood sheros has gone to be with the ancestors. Cicely Tyson, 96, was an icon to every Black girl who grew up in the 70s and 80s. Cicely personified black excellence, beauty and grace every time she was on screen. Cicely was a pioneer and paved the road for many dark skinned black women who came behind her. Cicely was a national treasure, especially in the Black American and West Indian communities. I will always remember Cicely as Binta from the Roots Miniseries (1977) and as Harriet Tubman in A Woman Called Moses. In fact, every time I think of Harriet Tubman, Cicely Tyson is the face I see. Cicely Tyson was an Oscar nominated actress who received an honorary Oscar in 2018. Cicely also won two Emmys for her role in Miss Jane Pitmann and a Tony for The Trip to Bountiful. President Obama gave Cicely his last Medal of Freedom before leaving office. Cicely was also known for turning down roles as prostitutes, drug addicts and maids. Cicely said those sort of roles demeaned Black women and she wanted to uplift Black women with the characters she portrayed. Cicely was also married to jazz great Miles Davis in the 80s (I always forget that tidbit).

Cicely saw a recent resurgence in her career these last few years when she appeared in The Help in 2011 and alongside Viola Davis again in How to Get Away with Murder. Cicely played Ophelia Harkness, Annalise Keating’s mother. Cicely’s appearance in HTGAWM re-introduced her to a new younger audience and reminded those of us who knew and loved her from our childhoods of her greatness. I’ll never forget that scene of Ophelia greasing Annalise scalp. That scene was such a beautiful specifically Black cultural scene that it was felt throughout the Black community. Cicely’s death was confirmed by her family via her manager Larry Thompson. Below is more on her passing and legacy via ABCNews:

Tyson’s death was announced by her family, via her manager Larry Thompson, who did not immediately provide additional details.

“With heavy heart, the family of Miss Cicely Tyson announces her peaceful transition this afternoon. At this time, please allow the family their privacy,” according to a statement issued through Thompson.

A one time 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. 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’s memoir, “Just As I Am,” was published this week.

“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.

[From ABCNews]

A couple of days ago I had heard that she had written a memoir and I had placed it in my cart on Amazon, preparing to purchase it this weekend. I was editing a video and had just stepped away from Twitter for about an hour. When I returned, the announcement that Cicely had passed was everywhere. The shock of losing yet another great from my childhood hurt my soul. I know she was 96 and that she lived a long beautiful life but she represented so much to me. I sometimes scoff when people say representation matters. I tend to forget and take for granted how often I saw black faces in film and on television when I was growing up. Cicely and Grace Jones were the two melanated queens that I grew up seeing that reminded me of my own beauty despite what society told me. Cicely was my dark and lovely representation who had a special type of regalness that came with the women of her generation. I didn’t want to emulate Cicely but she was a blueprint to the power I carry within from generations of African ancestors.

I feel no matter what I write, I will not be able to capture how much Cicely Tyson meant to me. She represented triumph over adversity, grace in the fire, majestic beauty that transcends all cultural norms and joy through forgiveness. Cicely will always be legendary and someone I looked up to. I know Cicely rests in the warm embrace of the ancestors. And what a fierce warrior to have on the other side. But I shall miss Cicely’s words of wisdom that she would often drop in interviews, and her beautiful face on my screen. Cicely will be missed but may she rest in power always.

Let’s remember Cicely reminding us that we are all queens:

Here’s her interview last week with Gayle King for CBS This Morning where she talks about her book and her life:

Tyler Perry’s heartfelt tribute:

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Photos credit: and Getty

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26 Responses to “Screen and stage legend Cicely Tyson has passed away at 96”

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  1. Mignionette says:

    What a beautiful woman who led such a remarkable life with so much grace.

    RIP Cicely Tyson.

  2. Becks1 says:

    This is such sad news. The tributes on my IG are so touching – I really liked the one from Ava DuVernay. I was just looking at IG and I felt like the first 30 posts were tributes to Cicely Tyson, and it was moving to see how involved she continued to be in the acting/movie world. May she rest in power.

  3. Sofia says:

    RIP. She was a wonderful woman and she leaves behind such a fantastic legacy

  4. L84Tea says:

    RIP to such a beautiful legend. I saw “The Help” when it was in the theaters, and I remember as soon as she appeared on screen, there was a reaction from everyone in the audience, like absolute awe. You could feel it in the whole room.

  5. Lightpurple says:

    I was honored to see her incredible performance in The Trip to Bountiful, just mesmerizing. May she Rest In Peace.

  6. Merricat says:

    Such grace and poise and talent and intelligence. We were lucky to have her.

  7. Mely says:

    I watched Cicely Tyson’s interview with Gayle King last week and got chills. I hadn’t realized she was married to Miles Davis. She said after he died she didn’t look for love, he was her love. What a phenomenal woman!

  8. Levans says:

    An amazing legend and talent. Such a loss!

  9. LaUnicaAngelina says:

    She is stunning on her book cover! It’s next on my Audible list. What a legend.

  10. chocolate princess says:

    Cicely Tyson will always be an extreme force to be reckoned with. A phenomenal actress and very beautiful woman (inside and out). R.I.P MY QUEEN. MY QUEEN

  11. BnLurkN4eva says:

    Wow! I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen her younger pictures. All the movies I saw of her, she was a woman of a certain age, so had never seen her younger self. I always thought she was beautiful and had such presence that elevated whatever film or television show she appeared in. She was certainly beautiful and yeah, it’s quite a shock to learn she was married to Miles Davis. I will purchase her memoirs to learn even more about this incredible woman’s life journey. RIP

  12. Sunday says:

    What a beautiful life well lived, what a beautiful soul. RIP to an absolute icon.

  13. Mumbles says:

    She was acting in a leading role on Broadway as recently as five years ago with James Earl Jones, doing at 91 what most actors can’t do at all. As a kid my first exposure was the Marva Collins Story on TV, and then holding her own against Richard Pryor in “Bustin’ Loose” and elevating that funny but basic material. A great lady and an amazing actor.

  14. ethyy says:

    Tyler Perry’s tribute has me in tears…what a legend.

  15. Fp says:

    A legend. A queen has left us.

  16. Tilewa says:

    Passing of a legend and class act. May she RIP. One of the first movies I saw as a new immigrant to the US that helped my understand slavery and the civil rights movement was The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman where She played the title role. An amazing movie. Hard to believe she was in her 90s.

  17. Dee Kay says:

    Love Cicely Tyson. Regal, beautiful, compelling, charismatic, talented, can’t-ever-take-your-eyes-off-her star. Say hi to Chadwick for us, Ms. Tyson!!!

  18. Valerie says:

    Damn, what a legend. RIP.

  19. lucy2 says:

    She was such a beautiful and elegant woman, and you always knew when she was in a project, she would be fantastic in whatever role she was doing.
    I look forward to reading her memoir. I’m glad she was able to see it published. 96 is incredible, and she did so much, right up until the end.

  20. osito says:

    An amazing woman, activist, cultural and style icon, and an absolutely *phenomenal* actress. I will carry her in my heart.

  21. Chigirlie says:

    She will be remembered as a screen legend, activist, and a role model. One of the all time greats. Tyler Perry’s tribute to her had me in tears as well, it was beautifully written.

  22. MerryGirl says:

    What a phenomenal woman. Thank you for all your great performances and for being such an inspiration to black people. RIP Queen Cicely.

  23. TIFFANY says:

    I still think about her drinking from the water fountain in Pittman.

    Tears just rolled down my face.

  24. Christina says:

    Her beauty was legendary. Seeing her onscreen in the 1970s until now was a gift. Such style, grace, and dignity. Black people have always been dehumanized in the media and in Hollywood. In our neighborhood in South Central, a stones throw from the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown, she was hope, and light, and love. She was a HUGE part of my childhood.

    When I was in college, my friend’s mother died, and she was at the house after the funeral. There were about two hundred people at the house, old Hollywood, some. She walked into the house in a sheer black shirt with a fancy bow tied at her neck and black slacks, no bra. I was stunned! She was breathtakingly beautiful, an older woman who was an ageless goddess, sexy as hell, dressed as the women in Hollywood dress for occasions. My friend and I gossiped about how she was still in touch with Miles Davis. It was a moment I will never forget. I was in a room with one of my heroes. I was a nobody who just admired her from afar trying not to be starstruck.

    Bless you, Queen Cicely. Thank you for everything you did, were, and will remain to so many of us.

  25. paddingtonjr says:

    I was just mentioning to a friend how much I was looking forward to reading Cicely Tyson’s book. She was truly an incredible actress. I first noticed her in Fried Green Tomatoes and had to find out more about her! Her almost wordless performance in The Help was amazing; she was able to portray the pain of a woman whose life’s work of raising another women’s children being taken away suddenly. Rest in Power, Ms. Tyson, you were truly a role model for many.

  26. Stacy Dresden says:

    I am so devastated by this. I’m actually shocked how sad I am. Please read Barack Obama’s tribute if you haven’t.