Tony-Winning Stage, Television, and Film Actor Cicely Tyson Dies at 96

Tyson earned her first Tony Award in 2013 for her starring role in Horton Foote’s ”The Trip to Bountiful”.

Cicely Tyson in her Tony-winning role as Carrie Watts in the 2013 revival of The Trip to Bountiful.
Cicely Tyson in her Tony-winning role as Carrie Watts in the 2013 revival of The Trip to Bountiful.
(© David Gordon)

Emmy- and Tony-winning actor Cicely Tyson died on Thursday, January 28. She was 96 years old.

Tyson began her acting career in 1951 on the NBC series Frontiers of Faith, followed by her first film role in Carib Gold in 1956 and television roles in the celebrated series East Side/West Side and the soap opera The Guiding Light.

She made her Broadway debut in 1959 as an understudy in Jolly's Progress and appeared in a number of other Broadway productions throughout the 1960s including The Cool World, Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright, A Hand Is on the Gate, Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights, and Trumpets of the Lord. In 1961, Tyson also appeared in the original cast of French playwright Jean Genet's The Blacks, the longest-running off-Broadway nonmusical of the decade (1,408 performances). The illustrious cast also featured James Earl Jones, Roscoe Lee Browne, Louis Gossett Jr., Godfrey Cambridge, Maya Angelou, and Charles Gordone.

In 1972, Tyson earned an Academy Award nomination for her role in the critically acclaimed film Sounder, and in 1974, she won two Emmy Awards for her leading role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. She also portrayed Coretta Scott King in the television miniseries Roots and earned her third Emmy Award for her role in The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. Some of her other notable film credits include Fried Green Tomatoes, Because of Winn-Dixie, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, The Help, and How to Get Away With Murder, for which she earned five Emmy nominations.

In 1995, Tyson was honored at Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball. In 2009, she was recognized with an honorary degree from Morehouse College (an all-male college); in 2010, she was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP; and in 2014, received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Columbia University. A magnet school in East Orange, New Jersey, was also renamed the Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts in her honor.

After her string of stage productions in the 1960s, Tyson returned to Broadway in 1983 for a brief run in The Corn Is Green and made a triumphant return in a 2013 revival of Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful, starring opposite Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Williams, Condola Rashad, and Tom Wopat. Her performance earned her Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards. She made her final Broadway appearance in a 2015 revival of The Gin Game opposite James Earl Jones.

Tyson married legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis on November 26, 1981. The couple later divorced in 1988. Her memoir, Just as I Am, was just released on January 26.