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February 1, 2021

The family of groundbreaking actress Cicely Tyson announced that she passed away Thursday afternoon at 96.

Ironically, many fans first saw her in makeup that made her look 110 in the 1974 TV movie, “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” in which she played a former slave who lived to see the 1960s civil rights movement (she was only 50 at the time.) That role won her two of her three primetime Emmy Awards. She also received a Tony Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, an honorary Oscar and many other awards, nominations and honors over her long career.

However, by the time “Jane Pitttman” made her a star, she had already enjoyed years of success, first as a fashion model, then an actress. She made history in 1963 by becoming the first African-American to star in a TV drama, the CBS series “East Side, West Side." She appeared in "The Blacks," which became the longest-running non-musical off-Broadway show of the 1960s, and in the soap opera, “The Guiding Light.” She was also in a number of films, including “The Comedians” and “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.” In 1972, she was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the movie “Sounder.” Shortly afterward, “Miss Jane Pittman” made her a household name.

Tyson went on to appear in many plays, TV shows and movies, including “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” “The Help” and “How to Get Away with Murder,” the ABC series for which she received Emmy nominations in five different seasons while she was in her 90s.

Some things you might not know about Cicely Tyson: she was married to jazz great Miles Davis throughout the 1980s (he credited her with saving his life by getting him off cocaine, but it didn't save the marriage.) And like fellow celebrated actress Cloris Leachman, who just died at 94 after a similarly long, healthy life and brilliant career, Tyson was a vegetarian. Maybe there’s something in those Brussels sprouts after all.

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