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Cicely Tyson, legendary actor known for 'Sounder' and other roles, dies at 96

Tyson was nominated for an Oscar for her role in "Sounder" and received a Tony Award in 2013 when she was 88.
"The Gin Game" Broadway Opening Night - After Party
Tyson attends "The Gin Game" Broadway opening night after-party on Oct. 14, 2015 in New York City.Mike Pont / WireImage
/ Source: NBC News

Cicely Tyson, a legendary film, television and stage actress known for "Sounder" and other roles, died Thursday at the age of 96, her family said.

"With heavy heart, the family of Miss Cicely Tyson announces her peaceful transition this afternoon," her manager, Larry Thompson, said in a statement. "At this time, please allow the family their privacy."

A cause of death was not immediately given.

MegaFest 2017 -  International Faith & Family Film Festival
Cicely Tyson receives the Legends Award during MegaFest's International Faith & Family Film Festival on June 30, 2017 in Dallas, Texas.Cooper Neill / Getty Images

Tyson was born and raised in Harlem and was first discovered as a model for Ebony Magazine. She began her screen career with bit parts but gained fame in the early 1970s when Black women were finally starting to get starring roles.

Tyson starred as Rebecca Morgan, a sharecropper in the 1972 film "Sounder" and was nominated for best actress at the Academy Awards the next year.

Tyson also won two Emmy awards for "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," and in 2013 she won a Tony Award for "The Trip to Bountiful."

In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded Tyson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, and the year before that she received the Kennedy Center Honors lifetime achievement award.

Obama in presenting Tyson the medal of freedom in 2016 highlighted a past comment she made: "I would not accept roles, unless they projected us, particularly women, in a realistic light, [and] dealt with us as human beings."

Said Obama: "Cicely's convictions and grace have helped for us see the dignity of every single beautiful member of the American family."

Tyson's memoir, "Just as I Am: A Memoir," came out this week.

In 2018, Tyson was asked about the success of Black women in Hollywood, like Viola Davis and Kerry Washington, and about successful films, like "Black Panther" and "A Wrinkle in Time," and she said it was high time.

"It’s long overdue, I can tell you that," Tyson told NBC News. " It has always been there. We have been a race of people that have been suppressed out of fear and finally we have been able to get a hold on the power that this industry wields."

"It’s certainly because of our stick-to-it-iveness," she said.

Thompson, Tyson's manager, said he managed her career for four decades and "and each year was a privilege and blessing."

"Cicely thought of her new memoir as a Christmas tree decorated with all the ornaments of her personal and professional life," Thompson said. "Today she placed the last ornament, a Star, on top of the tree."

While Tyson did not win the Oscar in 1973, she was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2018 for her body of work.

Among her many notable roles, she appeared in 1991's "Fried Green Tomatoes,” 2005's “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” and "The Help," which came out in 2011.

"Early in her career, Cicely Tyson promised herself that she would only portray strong women. Harriet Tubman. Coretta Scott King. Miss Jane Pittman, and so many others," the Academy tweeted, adding "she led by example and will be missed."

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