Andrew Young Maya Angelou
Andrew Young (Photo by Ben Rose/Getty Images for Grey Goose) and Maya Angelou (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Civil rights icon Andrew Young has paid tribute to his close personal friend Maya Angelou, who died at the age of 86 early Wednesday morning.

Young, who met Dr. Angelou in 1961 when they both worked for Dr. Martin Luther King, said the legacy of his old companion will last forever.

“People like Maya Angelou don’t die,” Young said. “They just float on to heaven, and their spirit and their words live with us always. We have kids as young as five and six learning her poems and twelve-year-olds reciting her work. She will always be with us.”

Young said what charmed him most was Angelou’s warmth and uplifting personality.

“She laughed and cried easily, but she was never sad,” he said. “She’d lived a very rough life growing up, but she had a song in her heart all the time and always a smile on her face and a real loud laugh.”

He recalls one of his fondest memories was Angelou’s 50th birthday.

“She was a magnificent dancer, a former professional dancer, and I’m a left-footed, two- footed preacher,” he said. “She dragged me out on the dance floor and she made me dance.”

Young said he spoke to Angelou’s doctors earlier this week about her increasing frailty. The literary genius had been struggling with health problems in recent weeks and had canceled an appearance in Houston, Texas, slated for May 30.

“She was on breathing apparatus, and she was getting short of breath,” he said. “Her body was frail, and it was getting harder for her to breathe, so she slipped away in a very peaceful way.”

The legendary author and poet died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“My family has known her for over 30 years, and she’s been like an aunt or a grandmother to me and she’s like a sister to my mother,” said Tonya Williams, 51, Andrew Young’s niece. “My mother and aunty Maya were very very close.”

Williams, alongside her mother, Sonjia Young, 71, was a main organizer of an inaugural women’s conference held in Atlanta in March, where Angelou appeared as a keynote speaker. The conference was one of her last public appearances.

“We knew that she was not in excellent health when my mother met her about the conference, but Aunty Maya was insistent that she wanted to come and she wanted to support us in this conference,” Williams said. “So she came and was magnificent. She was so giving and so loving and so wonderful. She spoke for longer than we even anticipated or expected her to speak, very gracious and very open.”

Former television producer Sidmel Estes met Angelou several times when she appeared as a guest on her Atlanta morning show.

“Maya Angelou was one of the most gracious and elegant guests we ever hosted on Good Day Atlanta,” Estes said. “Her voice will be missed.”

Angelou had been in poor health in recent years, but she continued to maintain a demanding schedule of lectures and speaking engagements up and down the country.

Just days before the Atlanta conference, theGrio.com was one the last media outlets to interview Angelou. She spoke about the importance of elders passing on wisdom.

“We are all teachers, whether we know it or not,” Angelou said. “I used to think I was a writer who could teach, but I’ve found in the last 15 years I am a teacher who can write.”

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter @Kunbiti