Cicely Tyson at the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival – Opening Night Gala – 50th Anniversary of “The Producers.” (Photo: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com)
By Matthew Wexler
In a decades-spanning career that broke stereotypes, Cicely Tyson appeared in theater, television and film, winning three Emmy Awards and a Tony Award for her performance (at 88 years old) in the 2013 Broadway revival of The Trip to Bountiful.
Other accolades include an honorary Academy Award and inductions into the American Theater Hall of Fame and the Television Hall of Fame. Tyson’s Emmy Award for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman became one of the actress’s most notable accomplishments. “She absorbs herself completely into Miss Jane, in the process creating a marvelous blend of sly humor, shrewd perceptions and innate dignity,” wrote the New York Times.
Tyson’s first shot on Broadway was as an understudy in 1959’s short-lived Jolly’s Progress. Her last performance was opposite James Earl Jones in a revival of D.L. Coburn’s The Gin Game.
A storyteller throughout her life, Tyson’s last endeavor was a narrative of her own life, Just as I Am: A Memoir, which released on January 26, 2021. Prior to the book’s launch, she told the New York Times, ““I try always to be true to myself. I learned from my mom: ‘Don’t lie ever, no matter how bad it is. Don’t lie to me ever, OK? You will be happier that you told the truth.’ That has stayed with me, and it will stay with me for as long as I’m lucky enough to be here.”
Tyson modeled early in her career, then studied at New York City’s famed Actors Studio. Committed to the success of other Black artists, Tyson helped found the Dance Theater of Harlem and continued to advocate for representation throughout her career.
When asked, “Now that you have made it, what else are you going to do?,” at the Grace Awards in 2015, she responded, “‘My dear, the day I feel that I have made it, I am finished.”‘