Pioneering US actress Cicely Tyson, best known for Roots, The Help and Sounder has died, aged 96.
She died on Thursday but details have not been disclosed.
Her manager, Larry Thompson, said in a statement, “I have managed Miss Tyson’s career for over 40 years, and each year was a privilege and blessing. Cicely 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.”
Young Tyson was born in 1924, in New York City to West Indian immigrant parents. Her show-business career began inadvertently when she was asked to model at a hairstyle show and was spotted by an Ebony magazine fashion editor. She quickly became a top model and later turned to acting.
In television she nabbed the first recurring role for a Black woman in a US drama series, East Side / West Side in 1963, and later starred as Kunta Kinte’s mother in Roots.
She became a household name in the US thanks to her starring role in Miss Jane Pittman, in which a 110-year-old woman recalls her life, required her to portray the heroine over a nine-decade period.
There were many telemovies, The Wilma Rudolph Story, King: The Martin Luther King Story, When No One Would Listen, A Woman Called Moses, The Marva Collins Story, The Women of Brewster Place, The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, Trip to Bountiful, The Rosa Parks Story plus Guiding Light, Gunsmoke, Emergency, How To Get Away With Murder, House of Cards, amongst others.
Film credits include Sounder, Twelve Angry Men, Odds Against Tomorrow, The Comedians, The Last Angry Man, A Man Called Adam , The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Bustin’ Loose, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Help and Hoodlum.
She also championed civil rights. In one of her last roles, during the series finale of Madam Secretary, Tyson’s character talked the nation’s first woman president into reviving the equal rights amendment. In 2016 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honour for civilians in the USA. Last year she was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.
There were also Broadway performances and a Tony Award for “The Trip to Bountiful” in 2013.
Once married to jazz legend Miles Davis and despite rumours of abuse and infidelity, Tyson said she had fond memories of her time with the mysterious music man.
Asked only this week by Gayle King how she would like to be remembered, she said, “I’ve done my best. That’s all.”