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American Film Institute's 47th Life Achievement Award Gala Tribute To Denzel Washington - Arrivals

Viola Davis, Shonda Rhimes & More Pay Tribute to the Legendary Cicely Tyson

The legendary Cicely Tyson, a history-making actress, humanitarian, and style icon beloved within the entertainment industry and beyond, passed away on Thursday at 96. Tyson died just two days after her memoir, “Just as I Am,” was published. She’d recently given interviews about the book, including this sit-down with Gayle King:

Tyson’s career, which included many critically lauded performances, was trail-breaking in every sense of the word, taking on a long list of compelling, potent roles while refusing to play the types of demeaning characters usually given to Black actresses at the time. Her long, singular career spanned more than six decades in which she was breaking barriers and breaking down stereotypes throughout. She performed opposite George C. Scott in the CBS drama East Side/West Side, becoming the first Black actress to have a recurring role on a network series. Later, her incredible performance in the 1974 CBS telefilm The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, in which she plays a woman who ages from 23 to 110, from before the Civil War to the Civil Rights era, made her the first Black actress to win the lead actress Emmy Award. Many more awards and nominations were to follow. Some of her great television performances include her work in Roots, King, Sweet Justice, The Marva Collins Story, and A Lesson Before Dying. She would go on to earn 17 Emmy nominations in total, including five for her work as Ophelia in ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder, the mother to Viola Davis‘s Annalise. She was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2020.

On the big screen, Tyson earned an Academy Award nomination for her role in Sounder and received an Honorary Oscar at the Motion Picture Academy’s Governors Awards in 2019 for her lifetime of great work on the silver screen. Roles in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Fried Green Tomatoes, Because of Winn-Dixie, Hoodlum, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, and, most recently, in Tyler Perry’s 2018’s film A Fall From Grace are just some of the highlights.

Tyson was a legend on Broadway, too, from her first appearance as Barbara Allen in “Dark of the Moon” to her return, 30-years later, as Mother Carrie Watts in Horton Foote’s “The Trip to the Bountiful,” which earned her what’s known as the “triple crown” of theater awards: the Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards for Best Actress. She was last on Broadway in 2015, co-starring with James Earl Jones in The Gin Game. 

Tyson was not only a trailblazer and phenomenally talented performer, but she was also an advocate and humanitarian. She was the leading light of the Cicely L. Tyson Community School of the Performing and Fine Arts, which launched in 1996. Located in East Orange, New Jersey, the institution serves 1,200 students, from kindergarten through 12th grade. In 2016, President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Throughout it all, Cicely Tyson was an advocate for Black actors and actresses coming up behind her. Her passing was felt, far and wide, by the countless people whose lives she touched, from those that she knew and helped to those that saw her on screen.

Here is just a brief snapshot of the outpouring of love for the late, truly great, Cicely Tyson:

Featured image: HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 06: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been shot in black and white. Color version is not available.) Cicely Tyson attends the 47th AFI Life Achievement Award honoring Denzel Washington at Dolby Theatre on June 06, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)

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The Credits is an online magazine that tells the story behind the story to celebrate our large and diverse creative community. Focusing on profiles of below-the-line filmmakers, The Credits celebrates the often uncelebrated individuals who are indispensable to the films and TV shows we love.

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