Skip to content

Iconic Actress Cicely Tyson Dies At 96

Cicely Tyson (267743)
Cicely Tyson

Celebrated actress Cicely Tyson, who scored an Oscar nomination for her work in “Sounder” and a pair of Emmys for the powerful 1974 TV film “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” died Thursday, Jan. 28, at age 96.

Her manager, Larry Thompson, confirmed her death in a statement, asking for privacy on behalf of her family.

“I have managed Miss Tyson’s career for over 40 years, and each year was a privilege and blessing,” Thompson 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’s memoir, titled “Just As I Am,” was released just this week.

No other details about her death were immediately released.

Tyson was a three-time Emmy winner, winning twice in 1974 for lead drama actress and actress of the year for her work in “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” She won again in 1994 for supporting actress in a miniseries or special for `”Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.”

Most recently, she received five Emmy nominations for guest appearances on ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder,” most recently last year, and for her acting and producing work on the 2014 TV movie “The Trip to Bountiful,” in which she recreated the role that earned her a Tony Award on Broadway.

She received best-actress Oscar and Golden Globe nominations in 1973for “Sounder.” Her most recent film appearance was in last year’s “Last Flag Flying.” She also received a Screen Actors Guild Award as a member of the ensemble cast of 2001’s “The Help.”

Although she never won an Oscar, she was presented with an honorary Academy Award in 2018. She received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2016.

Born in East Harlem, New York, Tyson worked as a model but later attended the Actors Studio and began her career on stage. She made small appearances in several films in the late 1950s, including Harry Belafonte’s “Odds Against Tomorrow,” before becoming a television regular in the 1960s, with appearances in shows such as “East Side/West Side,” “I Spy,” “The F.B.I.,” “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” and “Medical Center.”

She was nominated for a best actress Oscar for `”Sounder” in 1972, opposite Paul Winfield.

Tyson often recounted her stubbornness about the roles she chose, refusing to take on stereotypical Black characters in favor of those with strong personalities and positive messages.

Her work in 1974’s “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” portraying a 110-year-old former slave, began a string of powerful television movie and mini-series roles. She appeared in the iconic “Roots” in 1977, then portrayed Coretta Scott King in “King: The Martin Luther King Story” and Harriet Tubman in “A Woman Called Moses.”

“There is no one who has done more for the images of Black people than Cicely Tyson,” organizers of the Pan African Film Festival said in a statement. “On and off the screen, Ms. Tyson was led by her moral compass never comprising her values. She was a strong advocate for Black actors and film crews, often taking roles that addressed racial issues, such as Rebecca Morgan in ‘Sounder’ and Jane Pittman in ‘The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.’ She will be forever remembered by the strong images of Black women she portrayed on television, in motion pictures, and on the stage.”

The Los Angeles Urban League called her a “legendary Hollywood icon & symbol of inspiration for the Black community.”