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Cecily Tyson – A True Legend

Cecily Tyson passed away last week on January 28, 2021.   It does not seem quite right, does it?  Legends like Ms. Tyson should live forever as we want to continue to see her in more films and television.  No one could do Sipsey in “Fried Green Tomatoes,”  or Binta in “Roots” or Rebecca in “Sounder” better than Ms. Tyson.  Didn’t your heart break for her when Constantine was banished from her service job in “The Help,” or when the elderly Alice was kept prisoner for her Social Security money  by a scheming Phylicia Rashad in “A Fall from Grace” (released in 2020 when she was 95)?   She worked well into her 90s, being featured for five years on “How to Get Away with Murder.” Ms. Tyson made you care about every character she played.  It seemed as if she was not a character at all, but she became the person she portrayed.

This remarkable woman had a truly remarkable life.  She lived to age 96 because, as she said, she was a strict vegetarian and she never smoked or drank. She did not like the taste of cigarettes or alcohol, so why would she indulge?  Many people do not know she was once married because she became pregnant at 17. Her mother coerced her to marry the man because he was a preacher’s son and mother knew it would last.  Ms. Tyson knew better; it didn’t.  She was also married to Miles Davis at one time, a unique combination considering he said he could not even get her to smoke a cigarette.

Ms. Tyson’s memoir, “Just as I Am” was just released.  Her stories of fighting discrimination in the film industry are eye-opening.  As she summarized it, she was paid a pittance for movies like “Sounder” and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” but she kept going because she believed it would get better.  Days before her death, she said somewhat jokingly that she was still waiting!  She picked roles based upon whether the script made her skin tingle or if it made her stomach churn. The tingling reaction prompted her to select the role.  She certainly “tingled” correctly on her choices—to the benefit of us all.

No, Ms. Tyson should have lived forever to keep sharing her joy for acting and life.  But we still have her anytime we can watch a film of one of the unforgettable roles she played whether as Harriet Tubman in a “Woman Called Moses” or as Castralia in “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.”  She not only recreated history for us—she became history.  Cecily Tyson will long be remembered for all she contributed to our culture.  She said she was a child of God divinely guided by His hand, and He has now led her to Glory.

Ramona P. DeSalvo