“When the time comes, what do you want us to remember about you?” CBS This Morning host Gayle King asked Cicely Tyson this week to promote her long-awaited autobiography, Just As I Am.
“I done my best. That’s all,” Tyson responded, softly.
And her best was the best.
On Thursday night, the world reverberated with sadness when it was announced that the iconic actress and model died at the age of 96.
Amid the mourning surrounding a legendary figure such as Tyson was the urge to celebrate her amazing life. Though it is always gut-wrenching to lose someone who left such a significant mark on our culture, there is a sense of peace that comes along with the fact that she left this earth knowing just how much she was adored and celebrated. As such, we continue to uplift Cicely Tyson and honor her legacy.
Celebrities and other Hollywood industry insiders took to social media to pay tribute to the woman who embodied every Black woman—and consistently provided us with reminders of us just how powerful and beautiful we are.
“Cicely decided early on that her work as an actor would be more than a job,” Oprah Winfrey wrote in a very heartfelt tribute to her longtime friend. “She used her career to illuminate the humanity of Black people. The role she played reflected her values; she never compromised. Her life so fully lived is a testimony to greatness.”
Tyler Perry was another person who knew Tyson throughout his career and developed a deeply personal relationship with her, as the movie mogul made sure to honor and take care of her for as long as she was here.
“She was the grandmother I never had and the wisdom tree that I could always sit under to fill my cup,” Perry wrote on his Facebook page. “My heart breaks in one beat, while celebrating her life in the next. To think that she lived for 96 years and I got to be a part of the last 16 brings me great joy. 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.”
“Your hugs I’ll remember. How your petite arms wrapped around me like mighty branches of a sunlit tree, strong and warm,” Ava DuVernay wrote, alongside many behind-the-scenes pictures with Tyson, as the two worked together for Queen Sugar and became very close. “Your love I’ll remember. You loved me for some reason and told me often. Thank you, Your Majesty. And bless you as you journey ahead. Until we meet again…”
“#CicelyTyson was a national treasure who paved the way for so many of us. #RIP Ms. Tyson! It was truly an honor to work with you,” Octavia Spencer, referencing her work with the late actress in The Help.
“She was an extraordinary person,” Shonda Rhimes wrote. “And this is an extraordinary loss. She had so much to teach. And I still have so much to learn. I am grateful for every moment. Her power and grace will be with us forever.”
Speaking of Rhimes, we can’t forget the pivotal scalp-soothing moment in How to Get Away With Murder, which Viola Davis told The Root was her all-time favorite memory from the show.
“I’m devastated. My heart is just broken,” Davis (who also worked with Tyson in The Help) tweeted on Thursday night. “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…”
“A pioneer. Many doors are open because of this very soul,” Jackée Harry wrote, alongside pictures from the 1989 miniseries they co-starred in with Winfrey, The Women of Brewster Place. “Thank you for everything, Cicely.”
Netflix’s Strong Black Lead makes sure to give flowers (literally!) to our Black legends while they’re here with their Strong Black Legends podcast as well as their series of “Hey Queen” vignettes featuring some of our most cherished Black female entertainers.
Gil Robertson, CEO of the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) sent the following statement to The Root, following the news of Tyson’s death:
Icon doesn’t even begin to describe Cicely Tyson and her impact. The members of the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) are absolutely devastated by her passing, but, yet, so deeply grateful for her very existence. More than just an actor, she reframed the identity of what it meant to be Black and human on the screen, with special attention devoted to Black women. In 2013, AAFCA was especially fortunate to have been able to salute her excellence with a Special Achievement Award honoring her lifetime of outstanding work. Whether she was Harriet Tubman or just Miss Jane Pittman at the water fountain, she made us proud with every role she played. Enduring the subtle pushback against Black humanity during her press run for Sounder, her Oscar-nominated performance, committed her to becoming more than an actress. From that moment, she became a vessel through which all the dignity of who she was as a Black person, a Black woman, could flow. She will be forever remembered as a trailblazer and advocate for civil rights and women’s rights. We are inspired by her genius and to her standard of excellence.
Political commentator Lawrence O’Donnell shared a fantastic TV tidbit about Tyson, who was not only the first Black woman to host Saturday Night Live, but her appearance achieved the late night sketch comedy show’s highest-ever ratings.
“SNL veteran Jim Downey tells me the highest rated SNL ever was hosted by...Cicely Tyson, Feb 10, 1979, 17.6 with 42 share,” he tweeted.”
By the way, if you’re not familiar with the reference in the headline, I implore you to add the monologue from Madea’s Family Reunion to your research of this late, great performer.
Rest in power to our Queen Matriarch, Cicely Tyson.
Update: 1/29/2021, 10:24 a.m. ET: Of course, we must add LeVar Burton’s tribute, as Tyson unforgettably portrayed Kunta Kinte’s mother, Binta in the 1977 limited series Roots.
“This one cuts deep, Burton wrote. “@IAmCicelyTyson was my first screen Mom...Elegance, warmth, beauty, wisdom, style and abundant grace. She was as regal as they come. An artist of the highest order, I will love her forever.”