Trailblazing actress Cicely Tyson dies at 96

Tyson refused to play roles that were demeaning to Black women: "I wait for roles -- first, to be written for a woman, then, to be written for a Black woman." Oprah, Viola Davis, Ava DuVernay, Barack Obama and more pay tribute.

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Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
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Actress Cicely Tyson blazed the trail for many Black actresses who followed after her in TV and film.

Cicely Tyson/Twitter

Award-winning actress Cicely Tyson died on Thursday afternoon at the age of 96, her manager Larry Thompson confirmed.

"I have managed Miss Tyson's career for over 40 years, and each year was a privilege and blessing," Thompson said in a statement on Thursday. "Cicely thought of her new memoir as a Christmas tree decorated with all the ornaments of her personal and professional life. Today she placed the last ornament, a Star, on top of the tree."

Tyson's memoir, "Just As I Am," was published on Tuesday. When journalist Gayle King interviewed the actress about her memoir and asked how she wanted her fans to remember her, Tyson replied,  "I done my best. That's all."

Tyson's first appeared in 1957's Twelve Angry Men, but she is best known for her roles in the films Odds Against Tomorrow, The Comedians, The Last Angry Man, A Man Called Adam, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and Fried Green Tomatoes. More recently, Tyson appeared in the films The Help and A Fall from Grace. 

Tyson was also praised for her work on various TV shows and TV movies including Miss Jane Pittman, Roots, The Wilma Rudolph Story, King: The Martin Luther King Story, When No One Would Listen, A Woman Called Moses, The Marva Collins Story, The Women of Brewster Place, The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All and Trip to Bountiful.

Tyson refused to star in blaxploitation movies and TV shows that were popular during the 1970s, but also declined roles depicting Black women as sex workers, maids or drug addicts. Tyson received an Oscar nomination in 1973 for Martin Ritt's drama Sounder and earned an Honorary Oscar in 2018. 

Tyson's fellow actors took to social media to share their memories and adoration for the iconic actress. 

Oprah Winfrey tweeted, "Cicely decided early on that her work as an actor would be more than a job. She used her career to illuminate the humanity of Black people. The roles she played reflected her values; she never compromised. Her life so fully lived is a testimony to greatness."

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay tweeted, "Your hugs I'll remember. How your petite arms wrapped around me like mighty branches of a sunlit tree, strong and warm. Your love I'll remember. You loved me for some reason and told me often. Thank you, Your Majesty. And bless you as you journey ahead. Until we meet again."

"I'm devastated," actress Viola Davis tweeted. "My heart is just broken. I loved you so much!! You were everything to me! You made me feel loved and seen and valued in a world where there is still a cloak of invisibility for us dark chocolate girls. You gave me permission to dream."

Former US President Barack Obama tweeted, "In her extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson was one of the rare award-winning actors whose work on the screen was surpassed only by what she was able to accomplish off of it. She had a heart unlike any other—and for 96 years, she left a mark on the world that few will ever match."

"Cicely Tyson opened doors, broke through ceilings, and made pathways," comedian and actress Wanda Sykes tweeted. "We will be forever grateful."

As expected, many of Tyson's fans honored the legendary actress on social media.