Viola Davis, Zendaya and Oprah Winfrey lead tributes to Cicely Tyson

Keiran Southern, PA Los Angeles Correspondent
·5-min read

Viola Davis, Zendaya and Oprah Winfrey have led the tributes to Cicely Tyson, following the pioneering actress’ death at the age of 96.

Tyson, a star of film and TV, won three Emmys, a SAG Award, a Tony and an honorary Academy Award over a glittering career.

She was credited with playing strong African American women, with roles in Sounder and The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman.

Tyson’s death was announced on Thursday by her manager Larry Thompson.

Oscar-winner Davis starred alongside Tyson in 2011 period drama The Help and paid a poignant tribute on Instagram.

“My heart is just broken,” she said alongside a picture of her hugging Tyson. “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….because it was only in my dreams that I could see the possibilities in myself. I’m not ready for you to be my angel yet. But…I also understand that it’s only when the last person who has a memory of you dies, that you’ll truly be dead.

“In that case, you will be immortal. Thank you for shifting my life. Thank you for the long talks. Thank you for loving me. Rest well.”

In her tribute, Winfrey recalled the Legends Ball she organised in 2005 to honour influential black women, including Tyson.

The entertainment mogul said: “The idea for the ball originated because I wanted to celebrate HER, and the other remarkable Black women who carved a path and built a bridge for me and generations to follow.

“What a joy to honour her and feel her receive it! I loved her hat so much, she sent it to me afterwards.

“Cicely decided early on that her work as an actor would be more than a job. She used her career to illuminate the humanity of Black people. The roles she played reflected her values; she never compromised.

“Her life so fully lived is a testimony to Greatness.”

Zendaya described Tyson as one of the greatest performers ever.

The 24-year-old star of Euphoria tweeted: “This one hurts, today we honour and celebrate the life of one of the greatest to ever do it. Thank you Cicely Tyson. Rest in great power.”

TV producer Shonda Rhimes said Tyson was an “extraordinary person”.

“And this is an extraordinary loss,” she added. “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.”

Whoopi Goldberg said Tyson has been “escorted home by angels”.

She said in a statement: “She was a tower of power, a pillar of strength, CLEAR about who she was, and how she was to be treated… and that never wavered.

“She was in her 90s and just finished her autobiography. She said what she wanted to say… dropped the mic… and was escorted home by angels.

“My deepest condolences to Ms Tyson’s entire family, and to everyone who was lucky enough to know her. Rest in peace… even though we all know there are enough scripts up there to keep you busy.”

Robin Thede, the comedian and actress, described Tyson’s death as a “massive loss”.

She said: “Cicely Tyson is one of those legends you’d hoped we would have forever. And you knew it was a silly dream but you dreamt it anyway. This day is hard for so many reasons. This is a massive loss. Thank you for your gifts, queen.”

Actor and musician Common tweeted: “I’m so sad to hear the news that trailblazing artist and cultural icon Cicely Tyson has passed away today. While she may be gone, her work and life will continue to inspire millions for years to come. God Bless.”

Bernice King is the daughter of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr and Coretta Scott King, whom Tyson played in a TV drama.

In her tribute, she said: “I will cherish you always, Lady Cicely. Thank you so much. Salute.”

Tyson played actor LeVar Burton’s mother in the pioneering TV series Roots. “This one cuts deep,” Burton said.

“@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…”