“An artist of the highest order”: Tributes pour in for Cicely Tyson

Celebrities and fans alike are mourning the loss of Cicely Tyson, the iconic actress who died Thursday at the age of 96. Tyson’s manager said the Emmy-winning actress made a “peaceful transition,” just days after her memoir was released. 

“Reading Rainbow” host LeVar Burton called Tyson his “first screen Mom.” 

“She was as regal as they come,” he said. “An artist of the highest order, I will love her forever…” 

Actress Viola Davis shared a photo of the pair, writing that she’s “devastated” by the news.

“My heart is just broken,” she wrote. “I loved you so much!! You were everything to me! You made me feel loved and seen and valued in a world where there is still a cloak of invisibility for us dark chocolate girls. You gave me permission to dream…”  

Tyson appeared in countless films, TV shows and Broadway plays over the course of decades. She won two Emmy Awards for portraying a former slave in the 1974 TV drama “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” and another for her role in “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.” At age 88, she won a Tony Award for her role in “The Trip to Bountiful.”

Oprah Winfrey commended Tyson’s work, writing that she “used her career to illuminate the humanity of Black people.”

“The roles she played reflected her values; she never compromised. Her life so fully lived is a testimony to Greatness.” 

Ava DuVernay also highlighted Tyson’s career, writing that her “brave portrayals transformed the way the world witnessed Black women, whether they could accept what you shared or not.”  

Tyson’s memoir, “Just As I Am,” was released on January 26. That day, “CBS This Morning” aired an interview in which she spoke with co-host Gayle King about her legacy. 

“I’m amazed every single day I live,” she said. “I mean, what my life became is not what I expected … I had no idea that I would touch anybody.”

When asked what she would want to be remembered for, Tyson responded, “I done my best. That’s all.” 

King posted a tribute to Tyson on Thursday night, writing, “Thank you Cicely Tyson… for everything…” 

Tyson discussed her difficult adolescence with King. She became pregnant when she was 17, and was married for just over two years. When she decided to begin acting as a single mother, she said, her mother kicked her out of the house. 

Tyson made her onscreen debut at age 31 in the 1956 film “Carib Gold.” In 1972, she earned national acclaim for playing the wife to a sharecropper in “Sounder,” and was nominated for an Oscar. 

In 2016, Tyson and 20 other actors, musicians, athletes and innovators were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — by former President Barack Obama.

Mr. Obama tweeted his condolences, writing Tyson “had a heart unlike any other … and left a mark on the world that few will every match.”

Producer Shonda Rhimes called her “an extraordinary person.” 

“She had so much to teach. And I still have so much to learn.” Rhymes wrote. “I am grateful for every moment. Her power and grace will be with us forever.”

Tyler Perry also released a statement on Tyson’s life, calling her “the grandmother I never had and the wisdom tree that I could always sit under to fill my cup.” 

“She called me son. Well, today your son grieves your loss and will miss our long talks, your laughter from your belly, and your very presence,” Perry said.  “Always so regal, always so classy, always a lady, always a queen. Every time we would talk I would ask, ‘How are you?’ and you would say, ‘I’m still here. He must have something he wants me to do.’ Well, I think it’s safe to say you have done all you were put here to do, and we are all better for it.” 

I was sitting at the table working when I got this overwhelming feeling to watch Miss Jane Pittman. I hadn’t seen the…

Posted by Tyler Perry on Thursday, January 28, 2021

Peter Martinez contributed to this report. 

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