The iconic actress died today, her manager Larry Thompson announced without revealing details of her death. In a nearly seven-decade career, Tyson racked up 16 career Emmy nominations, winning three. She also won a Tony, a Peabody, a Presidential Medal of Freedom and an honorary Oscar. In 1963, Tyson made history as the first Black actress to co-star in a TV drama with her role on CBS’ East Side/West Side. Tyson won her first two Emmys for the 1974 CBS TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, playing a Southern woman who was born into slavery and lives to join the Civil Rights movement. She was the first Black woman to win a Lead Actress Emmy. She also won an Actress of the Year special Emmy for the same role. Tyson won her third Emmy, for Outstanding Supporting Actress, for the 1994 CBS miniseries Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. She also earned Emmy nominations for the 1977 miniseries Roots and for playing Coretta Scott King in the 1978 NBC Martin Luther King Jr. miniseries King. Tyson kept busy into her 90s, earning five Emmy nominations over the last five years for playing Ophelia Harkness, the dementia-addled mother of Viola Davis' Annalise Harkness, on How to Get Away with Murder. "I'm devastated," Davis wrote on Instagram. "My heart is just broken. 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....because it was only in my dreams that I could see the possibilities in myself. I'm not ready for you to be my angel yet. But...I also understand that it's only when the last person who has a memory of you dies, that you'll truly be dead. In that case, you will be immortal. Thank you for shifting my life. Thank you for the long talks. Thank you for loving me. Rest well." In recent years, Tyson guest-starred on House of Cards and Madam Secretary. She also starred in the 2020 Ava DuVernay OWN anthology series Cherish the Day. Tyson continued being feted with honors in her final year of life, earning the career achievement Peabody Award last June, four months after she was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. "In a remarkable career of seven decades, Ms. Tyson broke ground for serious Black actors by refusing to take parts that demeaned Black people," Robert D. McFadden wrote in Tyson's New York Times obituary. "She urged Black colleagues to do the same, and often went without work. She was critical of films and television programs that cast Black characters as criminal, servile or immoral, and insisted that African-Americans, even if poor or downtrodden, should be portrayed with dignity. Her chiseled face and willowy frame, striking even in her 90s, became familiar to millions in more than 100 film, television and stage roles, including some that had traditionally been given only to white actors." Tyson credited her success to vowing to accept only parts of “strength, pride and dignity" -- even if her selectivity led to months and years without work. “I wait for roles — first, to be written for a woman, then, to be written for a black woman,” Tyson told the Entertainment News Service in 1997. “And then I have the audacity to be selective about the kinds of roles I play. I’ve really got three strikes against me. So, aren’t you amazed I’m still here?” How to Get Away with Murder executive producer Shonda Rhimes tweeted: "She was an extraordinary person. And this is an extraordinary loss. She had so much to teach. And I still have so much to learn. I am grateful for every moment. Her power and grace will be with us forever." Tyson's death comes two days after the release of her memoir, Just as I Am. In fact, Oprah Winfrey tweeted about Tyson's memoir on Wednesday, writing that her "iconic beauty may have gotten her noticed at a young age, but it’s her talent that made her the living legend she is." LeVar Burton paid tribute to Tyson, who played his mother on Roots, tweeting that she "was my first screen Mom.. Elegance, warmth, beauty, wisdom, style and abundant grace. She was as regal as they come. An artist of the highest order, I will love her forever."
TOPICS: Cicely Tyson, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Cherish the Day, East Side/West Side, How to Get Away with Murder, Live with Kelly and Ryan, Roots (1977), Ava DuVernay, LeVar Burton, Shonda Rhimes, Tyler Perry, Viola Davis, Whoopi Goldberg, African Americans and TV, Obits