R.I.P. Cicely Tyson, a pioneering TV icon who garnered countless awards
She was the first black actor with a lead role in a primetime television drama.
In the Sixties, pop culture changed at a rapid pace, from Beatlemania to Batman. But some shows were too ahead of their times, even in that revolutionary age. We covered seven of them in a list, which included the boundary-breaking drama East Side / West Side. The New York City–set series, which aired just one season in 1963–64, was built as a star vehicle for George C. Scott, the first actor to refuse an Oscar. Covering social workers in Manhattan, the show also offered the first lead role for a black actor in a primetime drama — a role given to Cicely Tyson.
Tyson was no stranger to television. She had been working in the medium since turning up on NBC in 1951. An NYC native, Tyson was discovered by a photographer and began as a model.
In the Sixties, Tyson proved herself to be a triple threat, balancing roles on film, television and Broadway. She acted alongside names such as Maya Angelou and Sammy Davis, Jr.
Superstardom and critical acclaim arrived in the Seventies, as roles in big-screen movies like Sounder and made-for-TV gems like The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman earned her Oscar, Golden Globe and Emmy recognition. For the latter, she, at last, took home the Emmy trophy for Lead Actress. She was a regular in prestige miniseries, too, as her work in Roots and King garnered further Emmy noms.
She won another Emmy, in a supporting role, for Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All in 1994.
Tyson continued to work until the present day. A run on How to Get Away with Murder led to another Emmy nomination. In 2018, the Academy recognized her contribution to the screen with an Honorary Award. It sat on her shelf next to a Tony Award (The Trip to Bountiful, 2013) and a recent Peabody Award from 2020. Last year, she was also granted a place in the Television Hall of Fame.
On January 28, Tyson died at the age of 96, according to The Hollywood Reporter.