Groundbreaking actress Cicely Tyson has died at the age of 96. The Emmy and Tony winning legend’s death was announced by her manager Larry Thompson on behalf of Tyson’s family.
“With heavy heart, the family of Miss Cicely Tyson announces her peaceful transition this afternoon,” it reads. “At this time, please allow the family their privacy. A formal statement and details will follow.” Her manager also issued a statement of his own, reported Variety on Thursday evening.
“I have managed Miss Tyson’s career for over 40 years, and each year was a privilege and blessing. 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.”
Born in Harlem, New York to two immigrant West Indian parents, the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient began her extensive career as a fashion model before making her acting debut in the 1951 NBC television series, Frontiers of Faith. Since then, Tyson has starred in Emmy-nominated shows like The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1994), The Trip to Bountiful (2014), and most recently, ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder (2015-2020).
Tyson starred in notable films like Sounder (1972), Hoodlum (1997), Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005), and The Help (2011). For over five decades, the Hollywood icon graced various theatre stages around New York City, from The Blue Boy in Black (1963) to The Trip to Bountiful (2013). At the age of 93, she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame and became the first Black woman to receive an honorary Oscar from The Academy. Last year, Tyson was a Career Achievement Peabody Award recipient and became an inductee of the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame.
This week, Tyson released her memoir, Just As I Am, where the actress reflects on her well-lived life—including her complicated marriage to jazz legend Miles Davis—and her decades-long career in television, film, and theatre.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, she spoke candidly about her views on death: “I’m not scared of death. I don’t know what it is. How could I be afraid of something I don’t know anything about? 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.”
Tyson is survived by her daughter, “Joan” —whose existence was revealed in Tyson’s memoir—her niece, actress Cathy Tyson, and many godchildren.