“I have managed Miss Tyson’s career for over 40 years, and each year was a privilege and blessing,” her manager, Larry Thompson, said in a statement. “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.”
Cicely Tyson was 96 years old. There are going to be stories everywhere about her remarkable life. She was married at one time to Miles Davis. How she survived it is probably a movie unto itself. She will be remembered for so many roles over her life time, but the greatest was probably “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” She won two Emmys for that one, was nominated for an Oscar for “Sounder.”
She secured five Emmy nominations in a row playing Viola Davis’s mother on “How to Get Away with Murder” from 2015 to 2020.
Like Cloris Leachman, who died yesterday, Miss Tyson won tons of awards, all deserved, she was the essence of elegance and grace.
Two stories. Two years ago, in March, I ran into her on the Upper West Side. I wrote about it. She was dragging a rolling cart with files and had stopped into Maison Kayser across from the Beacon Theater. I re-introduced myself, we’d met many times. I asked what was in the cart. “Papers concerning my next play,” she said. Did she want any assistance, I asked? She said, sweetly, “Oh no, why would I?” The rest of the story is here.
A few years earlier Cuba Gooding and I were talking about Miss Tyson. He was in “The Trip to Bountiful” with her on Broadway. She was 88, was telling people she was 90, anyway, how could she be doing 8 performances a week? “She’s sleeping in the theater from Friday to Sunday,” Cuba said, that’s how. The production had built her an apartment. Made sense.
When she opened in “Bountiful” there was a lot of discussion about her age. On opening night I asked her about it. She was, yes, 88, and had the energy of four 22 year olds.
I don’t know what she was like when she was younger. But when I started seeing her in the audience at shows at the Apollo, or when she came to Aretha Franklin’s birthday parties, Cicely Tyson played it low key. She was not a diva. People flocked up to this bird like woman, overwhelmed that they were in her presence. She was shy, she wasn’t demanding, she was truly walking in grace.
PS She won the Tony Award in 2013 for “Bountiful.” It was her first and her first nomination, too. She’d started on Broadway in 1959 and had a run of shows in the 60s. She’d done more show in the early 80s, and then not returned again for 30 years! After she won for “Bountiful,” she came back one more time in 2016 to star in “The Gin Game” with James Earl Jones, who just turned 90 himself. What amazing fortitude. Bravo!