Cicely Tyson remembered ‘love of her life’ Miles Davis in last interview
The legendary actress passed today at 96 but released her memoir 'Just as I Am' two days before and was interviewed by Gayle King
Legendary actress Cicely Tyson has joined the ancestors at age 96. But two days before her death, the actress sat down with Gayle King to talk about her extraordinary life.
The two met at Abyssinian Baptist Church, the storied place of worship in Harlem that was Tyson’s home church before the pandemic. Tyson grew up in Harlem, born to parents who emigrated from the island of St. Nevis in the West Indies. Tyson’s memoir, “Just As I Am” was released on Jan. 26.
“I am an observer of human nature and a dreamer of audacious dreams,’ Tyson says in the memoir, which recounted how her career developed after she decided she wanted to be an actress even though she was a single mother. Her own mother, Frederica Tyson, didn’t at first approve of her daughter’s career choice.
“She told me I couldn’t live [here] and do that. Suddenly, I found something that I love to do — I had a child to support,” Tyson told King.
“I don’t know what she wanted me to be. She thought that I was going to live in a den of iniquity because we grew up in the slums. Lots of prostitutes walking up and down and that’s all she knew about movies,” Tyson told King.
But her mother came around and the two were close until her mother’s death.
Tyson didn’t get on a movie screen until she was 31 in the 1956 film Carib Gold which also starred Ethel Waters and was also the first film for famed dancer/actor Geoffrey Holder.
But Tyson’s early career was not always so triumphant. She choked up while telling King about an encounter with acting coach Paul Mann, who she worked with early on to develop her craft. But one day when the two were alone, he groped her and attempted to do even more.
“I think of the many Black women who go through that and are devastated by it and it kills their dream,” Tyson said, who revealed that she continued to work with Mann afterwards because he was a means to the career she wanted. “I was not going to let that happen to me.”
Another defining experience of her career was an incident with a white journalist while promoting the 1972 film Sounder that she starred in with Paul Winfield. Tyson was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for the role.
The unnamed journalist told her, “I was uncomfortable about your older son calling your husband Daddy,” Tyson says. “I thought, ‘My God, this man is thinking that we’re not human beings. And I made up my mind that I could not afford the luxury of just being an actress and that I would use my career as my platform.”
And Tyson did — winning accolades including three Emmys, a Tony, and in 2018, an honorary Oscar. But she also shared some of her personal life in the memoir and with King, including her tumultuous seven-year marriage to legendary jazz music icon Miles Davis.
Though she helped him through a cocaine addiction, the marriage ultimately ended in divorce in 1989, just two years before his death in 1991. She told King he was the love of her life.
“People who hurt – it’s always the people closest to them that they hurt,” Tyson said. “He was a beautiful human being,”
As far as her legacy, Tyson told King that at 96, she felt she still had more to do but was grateful for the life she had.
“I’m amazed every single day I live. What my life became is not what I expected. I had no idea that I would touch anybody,” a reflective Tyson said. When asked how she wanted to remembered, the iconic actress had a simple answer.
“I done my best. That’s all.”
Watch the full interview below:
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Image of Miles Davis and Cicely Tyson
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