Cicely Tyson, an award-winning icon of the stage and screen who broke barriers for Black actresses with surpassing dignity, died Thursday, her longtime manager Larry Thompson confirmed to CNN.
She was 96. A family statement did not reveal the cause of death.
The actress chronicled her lengthy career in her first memoir, “Just As I Am,” which was just released Tuesday.
Tyson embodied African American women who demanded attention – and more than that, respect. She played former slaves, civil rights icons, sharecroppers, truthtellers, mothers and other complicated women – bringing a sense of depth, nobility and grace to every character.
Her filmography includes some of the most celebrated movies and television shows featuring Black women in major roles: “Sounder” (1972), “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (1974), “Roots” (1977), “The Marva Collins Story” (1981), “The Women of Brewster Place” (1989), and “The Help” (2011).
Yet she said her most important accomplishment happened in 2016 when President Barack Obama awarded her the Medal of Freedom.
“In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only exceeded as an actor, she has shaped the course of history,” Obama said that day.
Tyson described that moment as “the most important thing that could happen to me.”
“I am one of three children, grew up in the area that is now known as El Barrio and that was the East Side (of New York),” she told TV host Steve Harvey. “To come from there to the White House with the first black President … to put that medal around my neck: Where can you go from there?”