As only a true artist of tremendous power can, Cicely Tyson – the much revered actress who died yesterday at age 96 – altered the landscape and left this world better for her presence.
Known across her seven-decade career for her Oscar-nominated turn in “Sounder,” her landmark, powerhouse Emmy-winning TV film “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” and most recently as the troubled mother in “How to Get Away with Murder,” Tyson made an indelible mark on every project she touched.
The first Black performer to star in a TV series – the hard-hitting, but short-lived “East Side/West Side” (1963-1964) – Tyson felt acutely the pressures on her in the industry and resolved to only take parts that uplifted or offered something unique and intriguing in return.
“I want to be recalled as one who squared my shoulders in the service of Black women, as one who mades us walk taller and envision greater for ourselves,” she once said.
That principle may have cost her work, but it only burnished her reputation and made all her projects must-see events.
Across social media, those who knew and loved Tyson mourned the loss.
On Twitter, Michelle Obama wrote, “She was the personification of beauty, grace, wisdom, and strength, carrying forward a flame that not only guided her for 96 pathbreaking years but lit the way for so many of us.”
Shonda Rhimes posted, “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.”
“Now light has returned to light,” Phylicia Rashad said.
Tyson had worked up until her death and was promoting her memoir, “Just As I Am,” which was published just this week. In it, she talked about her love and just deserved pride for “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” a film that followed a woman from youth to over 100 years old, from slavery to the modern Civil Rights movement.
In the climax of the film, Miss Pittman defies bigoted law enforcement to drink from a whites-only fountain. The scene still resonates.
She gave us 96 years.
Somehow it doesn’t seem enough.
Rest in power, Queen.