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Pioneering actress Cicely Tyson dies


Cicely Tyson arrives at the 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. Associated Press/Photo by Matt Sayles

Pioneering actress Cicely Tyson dies

Cicely Tyson, who played iconic characters and broke racial barriers during her seven-decade acting career, has died at 96. A family statement did not release any additional details.

How did she launch her career? Born in Harlem, New York, Tyson started out as a model and theater actress before becoming the first black woman to play a major recurring character in a drama in the 1963 television series East Side, West Side. Her breakout role as a sharecropper’s wife in the movie Sounder earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in 1972.

She went to star in TV movies, with roles such as abolitionist Harriet Tubman and civil rights activist Coretta Scott King. Tyson won two Emmys playing the fictional 110-year-old former slave Jane Pittman in 1974’s The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

Tyson was particular about the roles she played and complained about black women repeatedly cast as prostitutes and drug addicts.

At the age of 88, she won a Tony Award for her performance in the 2013 Broadway revival of The Trip to Bountiful. In 2016, former President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and she received an honorary Oscar statuette at the annual Governors Awards two years later.

Tyson was married to jazz legend Miles Davis in 1981, but they divorced in 1988. In her memoir Just As I Am, which was published two days before her death, Tyson noted the legacy she hoped to leave: “I want to go home knowing that I loved generously, even if imperfectly,” she wrote. “I want to know that I did the very best that I could with what God gave me — just as I am.”


Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.

@onize_ohiks

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