Hollywood mourns another one of its icons—Cicely Tyson, who passed away at the age of 96. The news of her death came just two days after the release of her memoir Just as I Am, which chronicles the legend’s over seven-decade career as an actress and model, her relationship with jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, and her 96 years of life.
Tyson’s career began in the 1950s when an Ebony magazine photographer discovered her and she began to model. She then appeared in a handful of television series, including soap opera The Guiding Light and the drama series East Side/West Side, which made her the first Black person to star in a television drama.
In the 1960s, she starred alongside Maya Angelou, James Earl Jones, Godfrey Cambridge, Louis Gossett Jr., and Charles Gordone in The Blacks, a play by Jean Genet that became the longest running off-Broadway non-musical of the decade.
In 1972, her performance as Rebecca Morgan in Sounder, a film about a family of Black sharecroppers during the Great Depression, was a standout, and earned her a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination. Two years later, she starred in the television movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, and won her two Emmy Awards. She was praised for portraying the title role of Miss Jane Pittman, a former slave who lives to see the Civil Rights Movement, from ages 23 to 110.
Tyson worked steadily up until her death, with roles in Roots, Fried Green Tomatoes, a handful of films by Tyler Perry including Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Why Did I Get Married Too?, the Broadway play The Trip to Bountiful, for which she won a Tony award for Best Actress in a Play in 2013, and Shonda Rhimes’s How to Get Away with Murder, for which she received another Emmy nomination.
She used her discernment when selecting roles, cautious to participate in Blaxploitation films in the early ’70s and actively insisted on wearing her hair natural while appearing on screen if it was right for the role. “I have learned from every single character that I played. Something emotionally, spiritually, psychologically true…I could not do anything that would not enhance humanity, especially women,” she once said.
Tyson was more than just an actress—she was a style icon well into her nineties and an inspiration to Black artists everywhere. The news of her passing sparked tributes from all over Hollywood to pour in on social media. Angela Bassett, Viola Davis, Barry Jenkins, Gayle King, Ava DuVernay, and Anne Hathaway sent their condolences on Twitter and Instagram for the legend and her family.