Barack and Michelle Obama Salute Cicely Tyson

U.S. President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to XXX during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House November 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. Obama presented the medal to 19 living and two posthumous pioneers in science, sports, public service, human rights, politics and the arts.

Barack and Michelle Obama Salute Cicely Tyson

The celebrated actress was known for her roles in ‘Sounder,’ ‘Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman’ and more

Published January 29th

Written by BET Staff

The world is mourning the passing of a legend. Acclaimed actress in theatre, television and film, Cicely Tyson passed away Thursday at the age of 96. Her memoir “Just As I Am” was released on Tuesday.

Her manager Larry Thompson confirmed the actress’ passing to Variety on Thursday (January 28), but did not provide further details.

“I have managed Miss Tyson’s career for over 40 years, and each year was a privilege and blessing,” Thompson said in a statement. “Cicely thought of her new memoir as a Christmas tree decorated with all the ornaments of her personal and professional life. Today she placed the last ornament, a Star, on top of the tree.”

The award winning thespian was born in 1924 to hard-working blue-collar parents in Harlem. "I come from lowly status. I grew up in an area that was called the slums at the time," Tyson said in a VOA interview in 2018. "I still cannot imagine that I have met with presidents, kings, queens. How did I get here? I marvel at it."

As accolades poured in from around the world, former president Barack Obama released a statement and took to Twitter to share his thoughts on the legendary actress who broke barriers on screen and in life.

"When Cicely Tyson was born, doctors predicted she wouldn’t make it three months because of a murmur in her heart. What they didn’t know, what they couldn’t know, was that Cicely had a heart unlike any other," he wrote in a heartfelt statement. "The kind that would not only beat for 96 more years but leave a mark on the world that few could match."

He celebrated Tyson's incredible work and her ability to "speak her truth" to power.

"At a time when parts for actors who looked like her weren’t easy to come by, she refused to take on roles that reduced Black women to their gender or their race. Sometimes, that meant she would go years without work," the politician noted. "But she took pride in knowing that whenever her face was on camera, she would be playing a character who was a human being — flawed but resilient; perfect not despite but because of their imperfections."

Obama included a photo of him and First Lady Michelle Obama presenting Cicely Tyson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

Obama added that with historic roles in both films and iconic TV shows and miniseries, "She helped us see the dignity within all who made up our miraculous — and, yes, messy — American family."

"Michelle and I were honored when Cicely came to the White House to accept the Medal of Freedom, knowing she was one of the many giants upon whose shoulders we stood ," he relayed. "A trailblazer whose legacy couldn’t be measured by her Emmys and Tony and Oscar alone, but by the barriers she broke and the dreams she made possible." 

Former First Lady Michelle Obama posted two photos with Tyson, sharing how she was inspired by her "humanity."

"Just by walking into a room, she had this way of elevating everyone around her. She was the personification of beauty, grace, wisdom, and strength," she expressed. "Carrying forward a flame that not only guided her for 96 pathbreaking years but lit the way for so many of us."

And while she will be sorely missed by so many Mrs. Obama was encouraged to smile “knowing how many people she inspired, just like me, to walk a little taller, speak a little more freely, and live a little bit more like God intended."

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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