Cicely Tyson, iconic US Black actress, dies at 96

Cicely Tyson, iconic US Black actress, dies at 96

29 January 2021 07:40 pm

Actress Cicely Tyson, who specialised in portraying strong Black women caught up in life’s struggles during a 60-year career that earned her three Emmy Awards and a Tony Award, died on Thursday at age 96, her manager said in a statement.

No cause of death was given. Tyson had recently completed a memoir, Just As I Am, which was released just this week.

Tyson’s most-lauded performances came in historical works such as the 1972 movie Sounder in which she played a Louisiana sharecropper’s wife. That film earned Tyson her only Academy Award nomination, but she received an honorary Oscar in November 2018.

She also won two Emmys for the same TV movie, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman – one for the best actress in a miniseries or movie and one for the actress of the year.

The 1974 movie covered a woman’s life from slavery to the 1960s.

Tyson picked up another Emmy 20 years later for Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. Her nine other Emmy nominations included playing Binta, the mother of the slave Kunta Kinte in the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries Roots, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr’s wife, Coretta, in King, and the inspirational educator in The Marva Collins Story.

Her manager, Larry Thompson, said in a statement that Tyson “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,” he added.

Tyson’s career boomed even in her 80s. In 2011, she was part of the ensemble of the much-praised film The Help and in 2013, at age 88, she won a Tony for a Broadway revival of The Trip to Bountiful, the story of a woman returning to her small hometown. It was her first time on Broadway in 30 years.

Even after turning 90, Tyson was busy. In 2015, she starred with frequent collaborator James Earl Jones in a Broadway revival of the two-person play The Gin Game. The New York Times said Tyson and Jones, who had last appeared on Broadway almost 50 years earlier, proved “that great talent is ageless and ever-rewarding”.

In February 2019, at age 94, Tyson was on the cover of Time magazine’s The Art of Optimism edition and an interviewer asked if she had considered retiring. “And do what?” was her response.