The death of renowned actress Cicely Tyson Thursday drew an outpouring of grief and an array of tributes from Hollywood and far beyond.
The actress and cherished icon, who was first Oscar-nominated for 1972’s “Sounder” and 45 years later was honored with an honorary golden statuette for her body of work, died Thursday at age 96, her manager Larry Thompson confirmed to USA TODAY.
“With heavy heart, the family of Miss Cicely Tyson announces her peaceful transition this afternoon. At this time, please allow the family their privacy,” Thompson said in a statement.
Tyler Perry said the news of Tyson’s death “brought me to my knees.” He explained that he received the news from Oprah Winfrey while coincidentally watching Tyson’s 1974 television film “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” on a whim.
“I was sitting at the table working when I got this overwhelming feeling to watch ‘Miss Jane Pittman.’ I hadn’t seen the movie in years. I didn’t even understand the feeling to turn it on, but I did anyway,” he wrote in a touching Instagram tribute. “Not 12 minutes into the movie my phone rang. It was Oprah calling to tell me that Cicely had died.”
Perry opened up about his close relationship with Tyson, saying she was the “grandmother I never had.”
“To think that she lived for 96 years and I got to be a part of the last 16 brings me great joy,” he wrote. “She called me son. Well, today your son grieves your loss and will miss our long talks, your laughter from your belly, and your very presence. Always so regal, always so classy, always a lady, always a queen.”
Winfrey shared a picture with Tyson from 2005’s Legends Ball, a celebration of “remarkable Black women,” including Tyson, Maya Angelou, Aretha Franklin, Toni Morrison and Rosa Parks, “who carved a path and built a bridge for me and generations to follow.”
“Cicely decided early on that her work as an actor would be more than a job,” Winfrey wrote on Instagram. “She used her career to illuminate the humanity of Black people. The roles she played reflected her values; she never compromised. Her life so fully lived is a testimony to Greatness.”
The passing of Tyson, who played the mother of Viola Davis’ character on the Shonda Rhimes-produced “How to Get Away with Murder,” also “devastated” the Oscar-winning actress, who shared a touching photo of the pair on Instagram.
“My heart is just broken. I loved you so much!! You were everything to me! 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,” Davis wrote. “I’m not ready for you to be my angel yet. But…I also understand that it’s only when the last person who has a memory of you dies, that you’ll truly be dead. In that case, you will be immortal.”
Rhimes referred to Tyson’s death as an “extraordinary loss” of “an extraordinary person.”
“She had so much to teach. And I still have so much to learn,” Rhimes captioned an Instagram picture of herself smiling alongside Tyson. “I am grateful for every moment. Her power and grace will be with us forever.”
Ava DuVernay, who directed Tyson in the 2020 TV series “Cherish the Day,” offered poetry in her Instagram tribute, which was accompanied by a picture of her hugging Tyson.
“Your hugs I’ll remember. How your petite arms wrapped around me like mighty branches of a sunlit tree, strong and warm. Your laugh I’ll remember. How it came easily and heartily and sounded like good music. Your work I’ll remember. How your brave portrayals transformed the way the world witnessed Black women, whether they could accept what you shared or not. Your words I’ll remember. How each time I hung up the phone, I’d write them down so as not forget the precious jewels of encouragement and wisdom you’d gifted me. Your love I’ll remember. You loved me for some reason. You told me so often. I thank you for that forever and I’ll carry your love with me as I go,” she wrote.
Multi-talented Debbie Allen said Tyson “will always be the Life of our Party.” She added that she’ll continue “celebrating the Beauty of Blackness and the Grace of Greatness. We will forever speak your name.
On Wednesday, Tyson had thanked Gorman on Twitter for her healing words at the presidential inauguration a week earlier: “@TheAmandaGorman, your words remind us that we will rise, rebuild, reconcile and recover. Thank you for your words and light.”
Gorman said Tyson’s message made her emotional Thursday: “This legend’s second to last (tweet) was about me. I can’t stop crying. Thank you, thank you, thank you Cicely. You’ve given us black girls everything.”
“Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon tweeted, “America has had a lot of great actresses, but none greater than Cicely Tyson. Rest in Power.”
George Takei tweeted a tribute to a fellow acting trailblazer: “She led a pioneering career in film, a remarkable feat for an African American woman born 96 years ago. An Emmy and Tony award winning actress, her career on screen and on stage stretched an incredible seven decades. We will miss you dearly, Cicely. RIP.”
Gayle King tweeted praise, along with her nine-minute “CBS This Morning” interview with Tyson timed to the release of her new memoir: “Thank you Cicely Tyson… for everything…”
Winter reading guide:20 books from Joan Didion, Kazuo Ishiguro, Cicely Tyson, more
Martin Luther King III and Bernice King, the children of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., also paid their respects.
“The world lost a trailblazer today,” Martin Luther King III tweeted. “#CicelyTyson paved the way for so many artists after her and beautifully portrayed iconic roles such as Harriett Tubman and my mother, Coretta Scott King. Rest in peace, Cicely. You will be missed.”
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) included a picture of Tyson and herself with a group of prominent Black women in her tweet: “So saddened to hear my friend #CicelyTyson has passed-one of the most profound, talented, & celebrated actors in the industry. She was a serious actor, beautiful & spiritual woman who had unlocked the key to longevity in the way she lived her life. Forever all my love & respect.”
Governors Awards:Clint Eastwood quizzes, Cicely Tyson brings tears to honorary Oscars