Cicely Tyson, an Actress Who Shattered Stereotypes, Dies at 96
In January 2021, when she was 96 years old, her memoir “Just as I Am” was published. In a pre-release interview with the New York Times Magazine, she was asked if she had any advice for the youth.
“It’s easy,” she said. “I always try to be true to myself. I learned from my mother: “Never lie, no matter how bad it is. Never lie to me, OK? You’ll be happier that you told the truth. ‘That stayed with me, and it will stay with me as long as I am lucky enough to be here. “
Cicely Tyson was born in East Harlem on December 19, 1924, the youngest of three children to William and Theodosia (also known as Frederica) Tyson, immigrants from the Caribbean island of Nevis. Her father was a carpenter and painter and her mother was a domestic worker. Her parents separated when she was 10 years old and the children were raised by a strictly Christian mother who did not allow movies or dates.
After graduating from Charles Evans Hughes High School, Cicely became a model and has appeared in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and elsewhere. In the 1940s she studied at the Actors Studio. Her first role was on NBC’s Frontiers of Faith in 1951. Her disapproving mother threw her out.
After small film and television parts in the 1950s, she appeared in 1961 with James Earl Jones and Louis Gossett Jr. in the original New York cast of Jean Genet’s “The Blacks”. It was the longest-running off-Broadway drama of the decade, earning 1,408 performances. Ms. Tyson played Stephanie Virtue, a prostitute, for two years and won a Vernon Rice Award in 1962 that kicked off her career.
She helped found the Harlem Dance Theater after the murder of Dr. King in 1968. In 1994, a building in East Harlem where she lived as a child was named after her. it and three others were rehabilitated for 58 poor families. In 1995, a magnet school she supported in East Orange, New Jersey, was renamed the Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts.