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Cicely Tyson dies aged 96: Barack Obama, Viola Davis and Billy Porter lead tributes to pioneering acting legend

Matilda Davies January 29, 2021
The unrivalled Cicely Tyson has won an honourary Oscar, several Emmys and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The unrivalled Cicely Tyson has won an honourary Oscar, several Emmys and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (JC Olivera/Getty)

Cicely Tyson, the Oscar-winner who blazed a trail for Black actors over a 70-year career, has died aged 96.

Tributes from co-stars, fans and former presidents have poured in for the actor, whose death was confirmed Thursday (28 January). No cause was given.

Tyson had starred in 29 films, 68 TV series and 15 theatre productions since 1957. She became a household name after her leading role in 1973 film Sounder, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

She has a wealth of industry honours including an honorary Academy Award, several Emmy Awards, a Tony Award, four honorary degrees and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and has been credited with paving the way for generations of Black actors.

Viola Davis, who played Tyson’s on-screen daughter in How to Get Away with Murder, posted a photo of her and the late star on Instagram, with the caption: “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… because it was only in my dreams that I could see the possibilities in myself. I’m not ready for you to be my angel yet.”

Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. He tweeted a tribute: “She had a heart unlike any other – and for 96 years, she left a mark on the world few will ever match.”

Laverne Cox tweeted: “To have gotten to be in the same room as you multiple times, is truly to have been in the presence of GREATNESS!! There are no words, just all the feelings you’ve evoked in us all and the indescribable blueprint, legacy you leave for us all.”

Billy Porter honoured Cicely Tyson on Instagram: “We will continue to burn the flame you lit.”

Cicely Tyson had a prolific career that spanned from her first film role aged 32 to last year, when she completed what transpired to be her final film, A Fall From Grace, aged 95.

Billy Porter posted a video to Instagram documenting her long life and career. His caption read: “You were not only a pioneer in an industry that struggled to see our greatness but you were also a trailblazer who held our hands and walked us through the door while giving us the blueprint of how to fight for what we deserved gracefully.

“Thank you for your existence, your brilliance and your tireless efforts to push the culture forward. There will never be another but rest well knowing we will continue to burn the flame you lit.”

Some of her most memorable roles include the TV series Roots and King (in which she played Coretta Scott King). Tyson won Emmys for her role in the 1974 TV film The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

Her recent work includes her role as Constantine Jefferson in award-winning film The Help. She also played Ophelia Harkness in How to Get Away with Murder from its inception in 2014, for which she received five Emmy Award nominations.

More: Barack Obama, Billy Porter, cicely tyson, laverne cox, sounder, viola davis

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