Cicely Tyson Dies at 96: Her Grand Finale

Tyson had a fruitful acting career, playing over 100 roles in her lifetime. Photo by Peters, Hans / Anefo/ Wikimedia

Tia Lowe, Howard University News Service

Cicely Tyson made her final exit on January 28 at the age of 96. The decorated actress’ death was announced by her manager Larry Thompson. “With heavy heart, the family of Miss Cicely Tyson announces her peaceful transition this afternoon. At this time, please allow the family their privacy,” the statement said. 

Tyson had a fruitful acting career, playing over 100 roles in her lifetime. In a recent interview with Gayle King she said early in her career, “I made up my mind that I could not afford the luxury of just being an actress and would use my career as my platform.” Only a grammy away from being a part of the EGOT Club (artists’ who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award) she has remained steadfast in utilizing her platform in an array of artistic arenas. 

Appearing on screen for the first time at the age of 31, Tyson landed a starring role in Carib Gold in 1956. She would go on to have roles in films and popular television series such as: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, The Rosa Parks Story, Roots, and How to Get Away with Murder. In between her larger than life roles on-screen, Tyson was perfecting her on-stage presence as well. Her name appeared on a playbill for the first time for the play The Cool World in 1960 as “Girl.”  Eleven more plays followed, including her Tony earning performance in The Trip to Bountiful.

Using her platform extended off-screen as well. She spoke to the plight of Black female actresses and her own adversities coming into the entertainment industry. Tyson once said, “We Black actresses have played so many prostitutes and drug addicts and house maids, always negative. I won’t play that kind of characterless role any more, even if I have to go back to starving.” 

Tyson’s selectiveness about the roles she agrees to take on has inspired young, Black actors like Jaelon Love, a senior fine arts major at Howard University. Love said, “She inspired me to find purpose for all that I do. Throughout her work and her career she did things with purpose and such grace and I try to put that in my work everyday.” Tyson has created a legacy that will keep her alive beyond her many years spent creating art.  She will be missed.