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Cicely Tyson
Cicely Tyson.jpg
Tyson in 1997
Born (1924-12-19)December 19, 1924
Died January 28, 2021(2021-01-28) (aged 96)
Occupation Actress
Years active 1948–2021
Notable work
  • Sounder (1972)
  • The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974)
  • Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1994)
  • Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005)
  • The Help (2011)
  • How to Get Away with Murder (2015–2020)
Spouse(s)
Kenneth Franklin
(m. 1942; div. 1956)

Miles Davis
(m. 1981; div. 1989)

Cicely Tyson (December 19, 1924 – January 28, 2021) was an American actress and fashion model. In a career spanning more than seven decades, she became known for her portrayal of strong African-American women. Tyson was the recipient of three Primetime Emmy Awards, four Black Reel Awards, one Screen Actors Guild Award, one Tony Award, an honorary Academy Award, and a Peabody Award.

Having appeared in minor film and television roles early in her career, Tyson garnered widespread attention and critical acclaim for her performance as Rebecca Morgan in Sounder (1972); she was nominated for both the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her work in the film. Tyson's portrayal of the title role in the 1974 television film The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman won her further praise; among other accolades, the role won her two Emmy Awards and a nomination for a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Tyson continued to act in film and on television in the 21st century. In 2011, she played the role of Constantine Jefferson in the award-winning film The Help. She also played the recurring role of Ophelia Harkness in the legal drama TV series How to Get Away With Murder since the show's inception in 2014, for which she was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series five times.

In addition to her screen career, Tyson appeared in various theater productions. She received a Drama Desk Award in 1962 for her Off-Broadway performance in Moon on a Rainbow Shawl. Tyson also starred as Carrie Watts in the Broadway play The Trip to Bountiful, winning the Tony Award, the Outer Critics Award, and the Drama Desk Award for Best Actress in a Play in 2013. Tyson was named a Kennedy Center honoree in 2015.

In November 2016, Tyson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honor in the United States. In 2020, she was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.

Personal life

Miles Davis and Cicely Tyson 1982
Davis and Tyson in 1982

Tyson had a daughter when she was 17 years old. At age 18, Tyson married Kenneth Franklin on December 27, 1942. According to her divorce decree, her husband abandoned her after less than eighteen months of marriage. The marriage was formally dissolved in 1956.

Tyson began dating jazz trumpeter Miles Davis in the 1960s when he was in the process of divorcing dancer Frances Davis. Davis used a photo of Tyson for his 1967 album, Sorcerer. Davis told the press in 1967 that he intended to marry Tyson in March 1968 after his divorce was finalized, but he married singer Betty Davis that September.

Tyson and Davis rekindled their relationship in 1978. They were married on November 26, 1981, in a ceremony conducted by Atlanta mayor Andrew Young at the home of actor Bill Cosby. They resided in Malibu, California, and New York City, until she filed for divorce in 1988. Their divorce was finalized in 1989, two years before Davis died in 1991.

Tyson was godmother to the singer Lenny Kravitz, having been friends with his mother, as well as to Denzel Washington's daughter Katia; and Tyler Perry's son Aman.

Tyson was an honorary member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She was a vegetarian.

Tyson died on January 28, 2021, at the age of 96.

Tyson's memoir, Just As I Am, was published on January 26, 2021, two days before her death.

Honors

Cicely Tyson at The Heart Truth 2009
Tyson in 2009

In addition to her Screen Actor Guild Award, her Tony Award, her Emmy Awards, and her Black Reel Awards, Tyson received several other honors.

Tyson received honorary degrees from Clark Atlanta University, Columbia University; Howard University; and Morehouse College, an all-male historically black college.

In 1977, Tyson was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. In 1980, she received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. In 1982, Tyson was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award. The award is given to outstanding women who, through their endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry. In 1988, Tyson received a Candace Award for Distinguished Service from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. In 1997, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In 2005, Tyson was honored at Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball. She was also honored by the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the National Council of Negro Women.

The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts, a magnet school in East Orange, New Jersey, was named after her in 2009.

Tyson was awarded the NAACP's 2010 Spingarn Medal for her contribution to the entertainment industry, her modeling career, and her support of civil rights.

Tyson was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015. She was awarded the United States' highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Barack Obama in November 2016.

In September 2018, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Tyson would receive an Academy Honorary Award. On November 18, 2018, Tyson became the first African-American woman to receive an honorary Oscar.

In 2018, Tyson was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. She was chosen to be inducted into the Television Academy's Hall of Fame in 2020.

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