Cicely Tyson, Prolific Actress and Honorary Oscar Winner, Dies at 96

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Award-winning actress Cicely Tyson has died at the age of 96. Tyson was best known for her acclaimed performance in Sounder, for which she earned an Oscar nomination, and in the TV drama The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

Tyson’s manager, Larry Thompson, announced news of her passing on Thursday. “With heavy heart, the family of Miss Cicely Tyson announces her peaceful transition this afternoon. At this time, please allow the family their privacy,” Thompson said in a statement provided to the Associate Press.

Born in New York in 1924, Tyson began her career as a model before transitioning to Hollywood. In 1951, she landed her first role on NBC’s Frontiers of Faith, and in the years that followed, she appeared in countless film, television, and stage productions, including East Side/West SideI Spy, and Moon on a Rainbow Shawl.

In the early 1970s, Hollywood finally became more inclusive, and Tyson broke into the mainstream with roles in Sounder (1972) and TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974). The former earned her Best Actress nominations at the Oscars and Golden Globes, while the latter earned her two Emmy Awards (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie and Actress of the Year in a Special).

Tyson continued to appear in high profile projects — she famously appeared in Part 1 of Roots in 1978 — throughout the late 20th century and well into the 21st. In recent years, her talents were introduced to a new generation with roles in The HelpHouse of Cards, and How to Get Away with Murder, for which she earned five Emmy nominations for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. In 2013, at the age of 88, Tyson won a Tony Award for her role in The Trip to the Bountiful, a Broadway play by Horton Foote.

In the years before her death, Tyson’s prolific career was celebrated by the likes of the Kennedy Center and President Obama, who awarded her a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. In 2018, she became the first Black woman to receive an honorary Oscar, and two years later, she was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.

Tyson’s death was met with an outpouring of grief on social media. “She was an extraordinary person. And this is an extraordinary loss,” tweeted Shonda Rhimes. “I’m gutted,” added Tyson’s Trip to the Bountiful co-star, Vanessa Williams. “Thank You QUEEN for your gifts,” wrote Vivica A. Fox. “You will NEVER be forgotten.”

Rest in Peace, Cicely Tyson. You will be missed.

Where to stream The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

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