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Cicely Tyson died on Jan. 28 at the age of 96, and the tributes that have poured in are a reminder of just how groundbreaking and powerful of a figure she was on stage, screen and beyond.
The legendary actor was best known for her groundbreaking film, television and stage roles, including “Roots,” “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” Tyson was celebrated not only for her commitment to her craft, but also for her integrity — her refusal to take roles that were demeaning to Black women made her a civil rights icon in a time when there weren’t many roles for women of color in Hollywood.
Many celebrities took to social media to mourn the passing of Tyson and celebrate her remarkable career.
Director Ava DuVernay, who worked with Tyson on the series “Cherish the Day,” tweeted a warm tribute, writing, “Your hugs I’ll remember. How your petite arms wrapped around me like mighty branches of a sunlit tree.”
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… pic.twitter.com/Z6f3dp7AA1
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) January 29, 2021
Oscar winner Viola Davis starred alongside Tyson in “The Help,” and in the drama series “How to Get Away with Murder,” Tyson played Davis’ mother. “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,” Davis wrote on social media.
I'm devastated. 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… https://t.co/7V7AFZtFLa pic.twitter.com/l2TLfM4weX
— Viola Davis (@violadavis) January 29, 2021
Actor and comedian Wanda Sykes noted how revolutionary Tyson was in breaking down doors in Hollywood for Black women.
Cicely Tyson opened doors, broke through ceilings, and made pathways. We will be forever grateful. pic.twitter.com/k5JKx0eolO
— Wanda Sykes (@iamwandasykes) January 29, 2021
Producers of Netflix’s “Strong Black Lead” shared a recent clip of an episode in which Tyson and Phylicia Rashad discussed her long career in Hollywood and what motivated her to become such a legendary actor.
Woke up this morning thinking about this amazing conversation. We must never stop giving flowers to our legends, that's one of the main reasons why this platform exists in the first place. pic.twitter.com/LHcd7FujDx
— Strong Black Lead (@strongblacklead) January 29, 2021
“But I felt if I just was able to reach one person, I would be grateful,” Tyson says, discussing her work ethic and her refusal to be typecast. “I allowed myself to get deeper and deeper in searching for the answer of certain issues that had to do with us, and I looked for roles that would speak to it. So I consider myself very fortunate that I was able to do that.”
Voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams took to Twitter to share her thoughts on Tyson’s passing as well, writing, “She infused film with the power of transfiguration, showing black women, marginalized women, underestimated women in their abundant glory.”
The art of rewriting an entire narrative is rare – but #CicelyTyson did so. She infused film with the power of transfiguration, showing black women, marginalized women, underestimated women in their abundant glory. And the world will never be the same. God’s rest to you, madam.
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) January 29, 2021
Former President Barack Obama, who awarded Tyson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was also touched by the passing of the Hollywood legend, saying, “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.”
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. pic.twitter.com/JRsL3zlKtP
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 29, 2021
Tyson had just released her autobiography, “Just As I Am,” earlier this week.