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Cicely Tyson gave strength and character to the roles she played in more than 6 decades in theater and film. She died on January 28, age 96. She had just released her memoir, “Just As I Am.” It was a remarkable career defined by what she did and also by what she did not do. She chose roles that offered up portraits of strong black women in which younger women could find pride and identity. If there was one word that defined her—and the word would have to be invented if it did not exist—the word is dignity. She stood for dignity. She was dignity. It was there always. Think of the roles and the movies: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Sounder, The Marva Collins Story.

In a brilliant appraisal for the New York Times, Wesley Morris wrote: “Tyson knew her place. It was in our movie palaces and living rooms, but also at Black families’ kitchen and dining room tables, an emblem of her race, a vessel through whom an entire grotesque entertainment history ceased to pass  because she dammed it off; so that—in her loveliness, grace, rectitude and resolve—she could dare to forge an alternative.”

Cicely Tyson received many awards for her what she meant to African Americans and for acting, including an honorary Oscar.

In 2016 she was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, who described her as 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. Tyson was married early in her life to Ken Franklin and they had a daughter, Joan. Later, she had a powerful up-and-down relationship and marriage to the great jazz artist Miles Davis from 1981 to 1988. She called him the love of her life and said his last words before death was, “Tell Cicely I’m sorry.”

I admired and interviewed Miles Davis and saw Cicely at different places and times around New York.  We did an interview in 1994 and another in 1997. 
Cicely Tyson on CHARLIE ROSE in 1994. Click to watch the full conversation.
Here is an excerpt from 1994: 

Charlie: Is there anything you have desperately wanted but you haven't had?

Tyson: You mean in terms of a role?

Charlie: Anything! A role, a life-

Tyson: Oh please! 

Charlie: Come on, tell me!

Tyson: Of course!

Charlie: What? That you just desperately want.

Tyson: I want my life to be fulfilled.

Charlie: And has it been?

Tyson: No. Because I think of acting as just a stepping stone to something else that is my reason for being here. I think there's something beyond it. And I don't know what it is. Acting, it was something I was guided to. 

Charlie: You're still searching?

Tyson: Absolutely.

Charlie: How goes the search?

Tyson: From day to day, I think I'm getting closer. To whatever it is. I feel it. Spiritually, emotionally. psychologically, physically.  

Charlie: Fulfillment. 

Tyson: Yes. But, I must add this. I hope the day will never come when I feel completely fulfilled. I don't want to ever feel that way.

Charlie: Your reach should exceed your grasp, as they say.

Tyson: Because it's over. The moment you begin to feel
you know, I speak across the country, several times during the course of the year, mostly to college students and young people. And one day, one of the students said, "Now that you've made it, what would you like to do next?" And I said, the day I ever feel that I have made it, I'm done. I hope that day never comes. 
To see the full interview, please visit

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