Cicely Tyson gifted the world with many great works during her 96 years, but her final gift, a memoir, was released two days before her death. In her book, she reflected on her career, relationships, and obstacles she faced along the way.
Pioneering Hollywood icon Cicely Tyson died on January 28 at 96 years, leaving behind a legacy of memorable works such as “Roots,” “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” and her critically acclaimed performance in “Sounder.”
With a career spanning almost seven decades, Tyson experienced Hollywood’s highs and lows as she rose to fame, first as a model then as an actress in film and theatre. Her personal life also had its fair share of notable moments.
THE STORY OF CICELY TYSON
Tyson unpacked her entire life in the 400 pages of her first and only memoir, “Just As I Am,” published two days before her death. In the book, she admitted that she never wanted to write a memoir until she truly had something to say.
The long-awaited book delves into the “How To Get Away With Murder” actress’s childhood, relationship with her parents, and how she fell pregnant and had her daughter at age 17.
FROM MODEL TO ACTRESS AND EVERYTHING INBETWEEN
In her detailed memoir, Tyson reveals how a stranger convinced her to pursue a modeling career after spotting her at a Lord & Taylor department store. At the time, she worked in the typing pool at The Red Cross.
Soon after the chance meeting, Tyson sent her photographs to modeling agents and began her new career. It wasn’t long, though, before she pursued acting in an effort to come out of her shell. She told NPR:
“Well, it happened because I learned that I could speak through other people. I was a very shy child.”
Thus, Tyson began her acting career, but it would not be a smooth ride as she faced an all-too-common obstacle for many young women in Hollywood. The actress described the events of a sexual assault at the hands of her acting coach.
Tyson was fired from her role on “The Corn Is Green” theatre revival because she took a night off to attend a [Miles Davis] tribute.
This wouldn’t be the first time that the “Sounder” actress would face unwanted advances from a man. “The Godfather” actor Marlon Brando also tried his luck with Tyson, but she declined him.
THE INCIDENT WITH ELIZABETH TAYLOR
Tyson also shed light on how she made headlines for her fallout with Elizabeth Taylor, Hollywood’s golden girl, whose production company she famously sued for unpaid wages after being fired.
The actress recalled that many industry professionals stopped speaking to her following the incident, but she remained proud, eventually winning the case and over half a million dollars. She wrote:
“Liz might’ve been Hollywood’s golden girl — but I claimed the golden egg.”
THE TUMULTUOUS RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TWO ICONS
Tyson was fired from her role on “The Corn Is Green” theatre revival because she took a night off to attend a tribute to the late legendary jazz musician Miles Davis.
Tyson and the master trumpeter’s relationship lasted two decades, with the pair tying the knot at Bill Cosby’s Massachusettes home in 1981. Although she later divorced him, Tyson held him very close to her heart even after he died in 1991.
Despite getting her first starring role at nearly 50 years, Tyson had made a huge impact in the Hollywood industry, paving the way for the Black film and stage talents who followed in her footsteps.
Besides making long-lasting friendships with Hollywood’s greatest, the actress was also recognized for her contributions to the performing arts, leading to many awards for her life’s work.
Among them, the “Medal of Freedom,” which she was awarded in 2016 by the former US President Barack Obama during his presidency.