Who was Cicely Tyson and how did she die?

THE Help and Fried Green Tomatoes actress Cicely Tyson, groundbreaking Emmy and Tony winner, has died at the age of 96, says her manager.

Tyson was married to jazz trumpet legend Miles Davis from 1981 to 1988 and Davis, who died in 1991, put her on the cover of his album 'Sorcerer'.

Who was Cicely Tyson?

Cicely Tyson specialised in portraying strong black women caught up in life’s struggles during an incredible 70-year-long career.

Her prowess on screen earned her three Emmys and a Tony Award – and countless nominations for other accolades.

She died on Thursday, January 28, 2021 at the age of 96, her manager said.

Tyson was born in Harlem, New York City, on December 19 1924.

Her mum Frederica worked as domestic servant, her dad William Augustine worked as a painter and any other jobs he could find.

She was the middle child, with an older brother and younger sister.

A photographer for Ebony magazine discovered her at a hair show.

Tyson went to Barbara Watson Models, a modelling school before she appeared on a range of covers including Vogue and Harpers Bazaar.

The talented woman started appearing on stage from 1950.

Although she had a manager, who helped get roles for her, humble Tyson concentrated on completing acting classes first.

She said: “I have to learn from the ground up. I want to feel solid on my plot, and then I can move on; otherwise, I can’t."

Tyson told Variety in 2020: “My career was difficult from the beginning. My mother didn’t want me to be an actress.

"She said ‘I don’t want you to do THAT… she had such great hopes and dreams for me [but] she eventually made peace with it. Time takes care of everything.”

Tyson was the first black woman to act regularly in a series – TV drama East Side/West Side, starring George C. Scott as a social worker, during the 1963-64 TV season.

She told CBS she saw the Hollywood hierarchy as a ladder with white men at the top, followed by white women and black men.

Black women were at the bottom.

“We’re holding on to the last rung. And those fists are being trampled on by all those three above and still we hold on," she added.

Aside from being a multiple award-winning actress, Tyson was also an author.

She died two days after her memoir Just as I Am was published.

Amazingly, Tyson gave her last interviews about the book, including a one-to-one chat with Gayle King, shortly before she passed away.

Her manager, Larry Thompson, said that Tyson “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."

The Martin Luther King Jr Center also paid tribute, tweeting "The King Center joins the world in remembering the life and legacy of Cicely Tyson.

"Trailblazer is not a sufficient description. What a legendary artist, sage and matriarch. We salute her. Rest in power, Lady Cicely."

What movies had Cicely Tyson acted in?

She acted as nanny and family's maid Constantine Jefferson in 2011’s The Help, which starred Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Emma Stone.

Among her memorable lines to Stone’s character, Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan was: "Now you quit feeling sorry for yourself. Now that's ugly.

"Ugly is something that grows up from inside you. It's mean and hurtful, like them boys. Now you not one of them, is you?"

Tyson starred in dozens of films including The Heart is A Lonely Hunter, 1968, Sounder, 1972, and Fried Green Tomatoes, 1991.

She was renowned for being extremely choosy about her work, often struggling to find meaningful work.

Cicely frequently said she did not want to portray anything but a strong woman.

Tyson had taken parts as prostitutes in plays during the 1960s before deciding to make a stand.

“After that, I was offered the part of another whore and I said no because I didn’t want to get typecast and because it was demeaning to black women,” she told the New York Times.

Tyson’s most-lauded performances came in historical works such as the 1972 movie “Sounder” in which she played a Louisiana sharecropper’s wife.

That film earned Tyson her only Academy Award nomination, but she received an honorary Oscar in November 2018.

She also won two Emmys for the same TV movie, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman – one for best actress in a miniseries or movie and one for actress of the year. The 1974 movie covered a woman’s life from slavery to the 1960s.

Tyson picked up another Emmy 20 years later for Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.

Her nine other Emmy nominations included playing Binta, the mother of the slave Kunta Kinte in the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries Roots, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife, Coretta, in King, and the inspirational educator in The Marva Collins Story.

Cicely Tyson starred, too, alongside Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy in Fried Green Tomatoes.

In February 2019 at age 94, Tyson was on the cover of Time magazine’s The Art of Optimism edition, and an interviewer asked if she had considered retiring. “And do what?” was her response.

Who were Cicely Tyson's ex-husbands Miles Davis and Kenneth Franklin?

Cicely Tyson was married twice.

At the age of just 18 years, she married her first husband, Kenneth Franklin, on December 27, 1942.

But he abandoned her after less than eighteen months later, according to Tyson’s divorce decree.

The court document also confirms that their brief marriage was officially dissolved in 1956.

Tyson wed jazz trumpeter Miles Davis on November 26 1981.

Their wedding ceremony was held at Bill Cosby's home, and Atlanta mayor Andrew Yong led the service.

The pair lived in Malibu California for seven years, until they divorced in 1988.

Davis, who died in 1991, put her on the cover of his album Sorcerer.

Their marriage was rocky, troubled by reports of his alleged philandering, domestic violence and substance abuse.

But in a 2015 interview with CBS, Tyson said: “I don’t really talk about it but I will say this: I cherish every single moment that I had with him.”

Heavy reports that she had one known child – Tyson talks about a daughter, whom she calls 'Joan, in her memoir.

She dedicated her book to her as "the one who has paid the greatest price for this gift to all".

How did Cicely Tyson die?

Tyson died peacefully on Thursday, Larry Thompson, her manager of over 40 years, said in a statement. No cause of death was given.

Her death triggered a wave of tributes from Hollywood and beyond.

Barack Obama honoured civil rights activist Tyson with the highest civilian honour in the US, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2016, and praised her on and off-screen legacy.

He said: "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."

Oprah Winfrey said: "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."

Viola Davis starred alongside Tyson in 2011 period drama The Help.

Oscar-winner Davis said she was "devastated" by Tyson's death.

"My heart is just broken," she said alongside a picture of her hugging Tyson. "I loved you so much!! You were everything to me!"

What was Cicely Tyson's net worth?

Celebrity Net Worth puts Tyson's net worth at $10million, while Wealthy Persons estimates her net worth at $12million.

 

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