Acting is a tough racket. Some performers consider themselves lucky if they work for seven weeks. So to have an acting career that spans seven decades is a notable thing indeed.
Cicely Tyson, who died on January 28, accumulated over the course of her long career Emmys, a Tony, a Peabody, an honorary Oscar, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. On top of all that, Oprah Winfrey officially designated her a legend, and I’m pretty sure that’s even harder to get than a Nobel.
Tyson’s legacy is not only artistic but socially active; early in her career she was outspoken in her refusal to accept roles that were racially stereotypical or demeaning. Instead she chose characters who enabled her distinctive range. Sometimes she was indomitable, sometimes frail; sometimes earthy, sometimes regal – not infrequently, she was all of those at once and more. Her body of onscreen work tends to inspire not just admiration but reverence; as an eloquent friend of mine posted in a remembrance online, “How was she possible? And yet. She was.”
Tyson’s autobiography Just As I Am was published just a couple of days before she died.