Cicely Tyson, the pioneering actress who racked up award after award over the years and touched the hearts of many with her remarkable style, wit, and grace died Thursday at age 96.
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.
The legendary actress recently recounted her seven-decadelong career in her riveting first memoir, “Just As I Am.”
Viola Davis, Tyson’s onscreen daughter Annalise Keating in the ABC drama series “How to Get Away With Murder,” pens the foreword, sharing emotional memories of her first discovery of Tyson’s work and how it impacted her.
At 96, Tyson has lived a lot of life, and her book is filled with much-lived history, as well as historical notes that provide context to past and current events. Being born to West Indian parents (both from Nevis) in New York, dealing with the reality of being Black, having her parents separate during her childhood and birthing a baby girl at age 17 was the backdrop for her art to come through on screen.
Tyson raised her daughter, whom she calls “Joan” in the book, pretty much out of the limelight of Hollywood. She describes her daughter’s birth and upbringing in detail in the book. Tyson said she and her daughter “continue to work on our relationship, as fragile as it is precious,” and she dedicates the book to her: “the one who has paid the greatest price for this gift to all.”
Throughout her career, Tyson dropped a number of great gems that we still hold on to now:
She Always Held Her Head Up High
“I don’t Uncle Tom to anybody,” she explains in an interview with The New York Times. “I don’t care who it is. When I smile, I smile. I do not grin. There’s a difference, OK? And I would say that to Jesus, do you understand? White people always think that when Black people smile a lot or laugh a lot, they’re being Uncle Tom to white folks. Well, that is not me. Absolutely not me. I smile when I feel like smiling, and I don’t when I do not.”
She Never Feared Death
“I’m not scared of death,” Tyson said emphatically. “I don’t know what it is. How could I be afraid of something I don’t know anything about?”
“It’s something a lot of people are scared of. They just think they know death because other people say it is something to be scared of, but they don’t know that it is a frightening thing…”
“People say it is this and it is that. But they don’t know. They’ve not been there. I’ve not been there. I’m not in a hurry to go either! I take it a day at a time…and I’m grateful for every day that God gives me.”
She Always Stayed True to Her Goal
“Well, it’s remarkable to me that I have arrived at where I am today because I had not anticipated it,” confessed Tyson in a NPR interview. I made the decision based on things that happened to me